Defense Issues: Volume 11, Number 58-- terrorism will not be allowed to prevent the United States from ...
Despite a bomb attack in Saudi Arabia that killed 19 U.S. airmen, terrorism will not be allowed to prevent the United States from protecting its vital national interests in the Middle East.
Volume 11, Number 58
Terrorists Strike U.S. Forces in Middle East
Remarks by Secretary of Defense William J. Perry to U.S. Forces Dhahran Air Base, Saudi Arabia, June 29, 1996.
I'd like to offer on behalf of the department and all of the
American people our sympathy for the ordeal you've been through
here and also to thank you for the job you've been doing here
through the years. But most of all to tell you the job you've
been doing is vital to American security, and we're going to keep
doing that job. We will not be driven out of Saudi Arabia. We
will not be intimidated by this move.
Most of you know enough about the history of this area to
know why we are here. In 1990, when Iraq invaded Kuwait, they
were poised to invade Saudi Arabia at the same time. They
threatened the security of the entire region. They threatened the
flow of oil to the entire world. Based on the deployment of Iraqi
forces at that time, Saudi Arabia could have been overwhelmed.
The United States had no military presence here.
At the request of Saudi Arabia and the other countries in
the region, we did assemble a powerful military coalition which
decisively defeated Iraq. That move was very costly in lives and
was very costly in dollars, and it took us five months to get
those forces in place. Iraq and other countries in the region
have learned some lessons from that, and if they threaten us
again, we may not have five months the next time.
Therefore, the lesson from this is very clear. We need a
strong U.S. military presence to deter future attacks on Kuwait,
Saudi Arabia and the other countries in the gulf region. This
deterrence will provide for the security of Saudi Arabia and the
other gulf countries. It will provide for the security of the
United States and will indeed provide stability for the region
and for the entire world.
An absolutely critical part of achieving that security is
the U.S. military presence here and in particular the U.S. air
presence here at these Saudi Arabian bases. In addition to that,
we have critical ground pre-positioned equipment in Kuwait, in
Qatar and in Oman, and we have a very substantial naval presence
in the gulf with bases in Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.
These three together -- air, ground and naval presence -- make up
the U.S. military presence in this region, very strong, very
powerful in and of itself, and provide the infrastructure which
could lead to very rapid expansion of military capability.
This military presence provides the deterrence that spares
this region from another Gulf War, and therefore, we believe that
this presence is vital to the security of the United States and
the security of Saudi Arabia and the stability of the entire
region. Therefore, we are going to stay here. We will not be
intimidated by terrorists. We will not be intimidated by rogue
As we stay here, as the events of the last week have clearly
demonstrated, there's a risk. That is the price of security here,
but we can take steps to reduce that risk, to bring that price
down. One of the principal purposes of my coming here is to talk
to you; thank you for what you're doing; explain why it's so
important to be here. But another purpose is to work in detail
with the American military officials, security officials, and to
work with the Saudis to devise programs to increase the security,
thereby reducing the risk of our presence here.
That will involve measures to increase what I call passive
security -- moving the perimeters out, more barriers, more
fences, more guards, more patrols, unfortunately, more
regulations and more restrictions. All of those things really
have been under way for the last year, but we will be doing more
of them. Indeed, the extension of the perimeters around the
residence area is already under way. What we have already done
quite clearly saved many lives in this last bombing attempt. Had
that truck been able to get closer to the buildings, there would
have been many more casualties. But it was not enough for the
size of the bomb we were dealing with, so we have to extend the
perimeters even farther.
But whatever we do along those lines, we do not want to ask
you to have to live in bunkers 24 hours a day. We want you to
have a decent quality of life, and therefore, passive security
measures are not enough. We also have to pursue active security
measures. That will involve a very intensive investigation of
this last bombing, so we can apprehend the suspects, identify the
team, the cell, from which they're operating so that group cannot
perpetrate any more bombings. It involves increased intelligence
and counterintelligence efforts. It involves working more closely
on international counterterrorist activities to stop the flow of
terrorist tools into the area.
All of these things we will be doing. Indeed, many of them
have already started. But the bottom line of all of this is that
what you are doing is vital to the security of the United States.
So I came here, first of all, to thank you for what you're doing,
to tell you we're going to stay here and keep doing it, but also
to tell you we will be taking every reasonable measure we can
take to increase the security and, therefore, decrease the risk
of what you are doing. We will be working very closely with the
Saudi officials in all of these measures.
Now with those opening comments, I'd like to take the
occasion to get questions and comments from those of you in the
audience here, the military people who are based over here.
Anybody like to throw questions and comments to me at this time?
Now, before I take your question, ... based on the briefings
that I got both in Washington and, more importantly, the briefing
that I received here this morning, the airmen at the complex that
was attacked showed real guts, true grit. We expected no less,
but it makes us very, very proud to see the way you all acted
under that kind of pressure, that kind of stress. ...
Now, there was a question. The question is what measures are
going to be taken for the buildings that are that close to the
perimeters. Those measures are already under way.
First of all, even before the bombing there was both a fence
and a perimeter of barriers put around, which meant that no
vehicle could get closer than about 80 feet to the building. For
a bomb the size of the one that attacked the National Guard
building, that would have been reasonable protection.
This was not a bomb that size. This bomb was something over
3,000 pounds. We still don't have the complete size yet, but [it
was] a huge bomb, and so we did not get sufficient protection.
Therefore, we are extending the perimeter out to about 400 feet.
That is already in progress. A briefing I got this morning said
that that would be completed by Friday, so that means that any
vehicle can get no closer than 400 feet to the buildings.
In addition to that, we will be vacating the rooms closest
to the street so that the rooms that are the most vulnerable to
attack will not be occupied. Now, the net effect of all this will
be doubling up in the space so there will be an inconvenience in
terms of doubling the space, but there will be a dramatic
improvement in safety. Those measures for the residents of this
base are already under way and will be in place, as I said, by
this Friday, so there will be a dramatic improvement in security.
I'm quite satisfied with what I've heard is being done with
this complex both in terms of the effectiveness and in terms of
timing. But we have residences all over Saudi Arabia, and we have
to be concerned with all of them, not just this one. But in terms
of this particular complex, very timely and very effective
actions are being taken.
Question? ... [regarding what will be done about the
We're going to find them and punish them. I don't have any
doubts on that. We already have an FBI team that was here the day
after the bombing. They're working in close cooperation with the
Saudis. In addition to find this particular group, apprehending
them and punishing them, that's a necessary action, but that is
not sufficient. They are not the only threat to the security of
our forces here, and, therefore, we need improved intelligence
and counterintelligence efforts as well.
So I will be discussing with the Saudi officials things that
go beyond capturing and punishing perpetrators -- it's
apprehending before they do the bombing. The best way of dealing
with terrorism is through intelligence which identifies the
cells, identifies the people, identifies their plans before they
execute them. So we need a much stronger program in that regard.
Thank you very much. It was great to talk to you, and again,
you've all shown true grit. I can tell you I am proud to be your
secretary of defense.
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Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs), Washington, D.C.
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