Terrorist Threat Underestimated Senate Panel Quizzes Perry About Saudi Bomb Blast
U.S. forces in Saudi Arabia can expect more terrorist attacks, Defense Secretary William Perry told Congress Tuesday. He conceded that military commanders had underestimated the threat before the bombing that killed 19 U.S. servicemen.
Perry said that maintaining a U.S. military force in Saudi Arabia is “vital to our national security interest” but might require basing those forces outside populated areas where it would be easier to protect them.
“It’s going to be difficult,” he said. Appearing with the defense secretary were Gen. John Shalikashvili, the nation’s top uniformed military officer, and Gen. J.H. Binford Peay, whose Central Command includes the Middle East and Persian Gulf.
Appearing subdued as the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing started, Perry had to be asked by chairman Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., to speak into the microphone so he could be heard.
“We can expect further attacks on our facilities in the command,” said Perry. “We must capture and punish the bombers,” he said. “If we identify another nation as the source of the bombing, we should retaliate.”
Perry described the voluminous intelligence on terrorism in the Persian Gulf as “spotty and inconclusive,” making it difficult for military commanders to make security plans.
At the White House, President Clinton said he is satisfied with the progress of the bombing investigation ordered by Perry.
Members of the Armed Services Committee pressed all three to explain why more wasn’t done to ensure the security of the U.S. personnel who lived at the Khobar Towers residence at the U.S. Air Force Base at Dhahran.
A truck bomb destroyed the residence on June 25, killing 19 U.S. airmen and injuring 250 others. The explosion occurred seven months after a terrorist bomb killed five Americans at a Saudi national guard facility in Riyadh.
“The security measures we introduced after the bombing of the Saudi National Guard facility were focused on a threat less powerful than actually occurred,” said Perry. “Secondly … our local commanders, for a variety of reasons, had not completed some of the measures that were prescribed and which they agreed needed to be done.”
Later, the committee went into closed session and heard from Prince Bandar Bin Sultan, the Saudi ambassador to the United States. A government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the ambassador told the committee that no U.S. request to expand the perimeter ever reached senior Saudi officials. He said the request was never rejected outright at lower levels.
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