Air Force Chief of Staff Ronald Fogleman said Monday he would retire a year early over a dispute with Defense Secretary William Cohen concerning accountability for the terrorist blast that killed 19 airmen in Saudi Arabia. He had warned he would do so if U.S. officers were blamed.
Cohen said in an interview that he had been prepared for Fogleman’s resignation and added, “I’ve never responded to pressure from anyone.”
In the interview with The Associated Press, Cohen said he would announce later this week whether he would punish anyone in connection with the June 25, 1996, Khobar Towers bombing.
In a statement distributed at the Pentagon, Fogleman said he acted to “defuse the perceived confrontation” between himself and the secretary over the punishment issue, adding that he felt his military judgment and advice were at issue.
“After serving as chief of staff for almost three years, my values and sense of loyalty to the troops led me to the conclusion that I may be out of step,” Fogleman said. “I do not want the institution to suffer and I am afraid that it will if I am seen as a divisive force and not a team player.”
Pentagon officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Fogleman took the dramatic step for a variety of reasons but clearly intended to signal that he believed Brig. Gen. Terryl J. Schwalier, commander of the air base where the attack occurred, should not be punished for an event beyond his control.
Cohen, asked about the situation, noted that talk of Fogleman’s stand had circulated for some time.