Billions to be spent protecting U.S. troops

July 18, 1996|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON -- The Pentagon said yesterday that it is developing emergency plans -- likely to cost billions of dollars -- to protect U.S. troops abroad against new kinds of terrorist attacks, ranging from large truck bombs to chemical and even biological weapons.

Defense Department officials said the measures, some of which could be in place in eight weeks, would mean fundamental changes in the way the military deploys troops and secures bases in several hot spots, from Bosnia to the Mideast.

The Pentagon's intention to upgrade security for U.S. troops overseas was outlined to senators yesterday morning by Defense Secretary William J. Perry, and was discussed with reporters later by a senior defense official.

Perry also said the Pentagon will begin within a few weeks carrying out its previously announced plans to relocate up to 4,000 U.S. servicemen in Saudi Arabia from Riyadh and Dhahran the remote al-Kharg air base 60 miles south of Riyadh, where they can be protected more easily.

Defense officials said the department decided to heighten security protection for U.S. troops stationed abroad because terrorists have begun using larger, more-sophisticated weapons and were more fanatical today -- that is, more willing to risk death themselves.

Although the Pentagon was caught unprepared by the size of the 5,000-pound bomb used in the Dhahran truck-bombing last month, Perry said intelligence reports suggest terrorists could use bombs as large as 10,000 pounds or 20,000 pounds, and chemical or biological weapons as well.

"We cannot deal with those attacks adequately just by moving fences and just by putting more Mylar on glass," Perry told reporters, referring to the kinds of small changes that have been made at U.S. compounds in Saudi Arabia so far.

"I believe we have to get ahead of the threat assessment," Perry said.

"We are modeling our force-protection initiatives on the assumption that such [large-scale] attacks will occur."

Perry gave no specifics on the kinds of changes he has in mind, and officials said none would be available until planners complete their initial proposals. But policy-makers said they hope to begin making changes by the end of the summer.

They also declined to provide any figures on how much the overall plan would cost. However, a senior defense official conceded that the additional costs would be "substantial," and easily could be in the range of several billion dollars.

Officials said that, as is the case now with the current U.S. deployment, at least a portion of the cost of moving the force most likely would be borne by the Saudi Arabian government. They said the two sides are negotiating over what formula to use.

Officials said the changes Perry outlined would not be limited to Saudi Arabia, but also would affect U.S. military personnel deployed in Bosnia, Turkey and possibly other areas where intelligence suggests that American forces potentially are in danger.

They also warned that despite national outrage over last month's bombing, in which 19 U.S. servicemen were killed, the United States must not overreact and begin pulling its troops out of Saudi Arabia.

Pub Date: 7/18/96

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