Perry: Saudi OK of Greater Security Might Have Cut Casualties
ABOARD THE USS GEORGE WASHINGTON (AP) _ The casualty toll in the terrorist bombing that killed 19 American airmen in Saudi Arabia might have been lighter had Saudi authorities granted a U.S. request for a broader security zone around a military housing area, Defense Secretary William J. Perry says.
At the same time, Perry maintained that Saudi cooperation has been satisfactory and that the size of the security zone was not the only factor that determined the amount of damage in the attack last Tuesday that also injured more than 200 troops.
``It is easy to point to this one base and this one activity and say why wasn’t something different done there,″ Perry said Sunday, ``but the question I have to be concerned with is the level of security ... at our bases all over the world.″
Perry made his remarks to reporters while sailing aboard this aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean Sea.
Nearly a week after the bomb blast at an apartment complex housing U.S. servicemen the political repercussions in the United States are still being felt.
On Sunday, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee questioned Perry’s fitness to serve as defense secretary in light of the bombing.
``I think there’s a real need to shake up the Department of Defense and a real question as to whether William J. Perry is the right man to be secretary of defense,″ Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., said on NBC’s ``Meet the Press.″ His panel plans a hearing on the bombing July 9.
Asked about Specter’s remarks as he prepared to address sailors on an aircraft hangar deck, Perry said he was offended by any suggestion that he would not take all reasonable measures to safeguard U.S. troops stationed abroad.
``I deeply resent Senator Specter personalizing this,″ Perry said.
David Johnson, chief spokesman for President Clinton’s National Security Council said: ``The president has full and complete confidence in his secretary of defense.″
Sen. Bob Kerrey, D-Neb., the Intelligence Committee’s vice chairman, also disagreed with Specter. ``The truth of the matter is if you want the American forces completely safe, perhaps they shouldn’t be in Saudi Arabia at all,″ Kerrey said.
Perry said he learned during his visit to the bombing site in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, on Saturday that U.S. military officials had sought permission from Saudi authorities to extend a security fence farther from the bombed apartment building but were turned down.
On the day of Perry’s visit, the security perimeter was pushed back to 400 feet _ as had been requested earlier this year _ from the 80-foot mark where the bombers parked a fuel truck and leaped into a getaway car before the bomb exploded.
``If the perimeter had been pushed back to 400 feet, and if the bomb had gone off at the same place, there would have been fewer damages, without question,″ Perry said.
He stressed, however, that the depth of the security area was not the only issue. ``The terrorist doing the planning is looking for the weak spot ... He probably would not have set off the bomb at that place″ if the fence had been extended. ``He would have looked for some other place to set it off.″
Perry said he could not fault the Saudis because they, too, were scaling the security requirements in Dhahran to what was learned from a car bombing at a U.S. military compound in Riyadh last November that killed five Americans. The Dhahran explosive is estimated to have been 10 times more powerful.
``Their mindset was not dramatically different from ours in thinking of what we could do to guard against a bomb of the kind that had gone off in November,″ Perry said.
Some question, however, why neither the Saudis nor the Americans had thought to guard against the larger bomb, which was similar in size to the devastating blast that leveled the federal building in Oklahoma City last year.
During a meeting earlier Sunday in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, King Fahd promised Perry his government’s full cooperation in finding and prosecuting those responsible for the Dhahran bombing. Four Saudis were convicted and beheaded for the Riyadh attack.