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  'There Can Be No Safe Haven for Terrorists'

Defense Secretary William Cohen announces the military strikes. (File)
Federal Document Clearing House
Friday, August 21, 1998; Page A18

Following are excerpts from a briefing and news conference yesterday by Defense Secretary William S. Cohen and Gen. Henry H. Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff:

COHEN: As you've already heard from President Clinton, we have today conducted military strikes at several facilities that have supported international terrorist groups. . . .

We've taken these actions to reduce the ability of these terrorist organizations to train and equip their misguided followers or to acquire weapons of mass destruction for their use in campaigns of terror.

We recognize that these strikes will not eliminate the problem, but our message is clear. There will be no sanctuary for terrorists, and no limit to our resolve to defend American citizens and our interests, our ideals of democracy and law against these cowardly attacks. . . .

General Shelton is going to provide you with as much operational detail as we can on the facilities that have been struck, but I need to forewarn you: There will not be much operational detail provided. We are engaged in a difficult confrontation with the forces of international terrorism. The unique nature of the terrorist threat, the lack of regard for international law, the willingness to specifically target innocent civilians, transnational operations which defy traditional means of influence -- all of these factors and more have forced us to adopt some very different approaches to the problem. . . .

SHELTON: . . . The facilities we struck today in Afghanistan and Sudan are important parts of the bin Laden network of terrorist groups. At 1:30 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time, simultaneous military strikes were carried out against known terrorist training facilities in remote regions of Afghanistan and an industrial facility in Khartoum, Sudan.

The targets selected and the timing of the strikes, 7:30 p.m. in Sudan and 10 p.m. in Afghanistan, were part of our overall effort to minimize collateral damage at the sites. . . .

The three facilities in Afghanistan we struck are the Zhawar Kili Al-Badr base camp, training camp and support complex. A number of terrorist groups are associated with these facilities, including bin Laden's al-Kadar, the Armed Islamic Group and the Egyptian Islamic Jihad.

These bases provide refuge for terrorists, house the infrastructure for their funding international travel and are used to train terrorists in the tactics and weapons of international terrorism.

The base camp is the main headquarters facility for the complex, and it includes storage, housing, training and administration facilities for the complex. It is also the key command and control node. The support camp is the primary logistics area for the complex and includes storage for a large amount of weapons and ammunition.

The four primary training camps, one of which is shown here, are used for training [in] terrorist tactics, indoctrination, weapons and the use of improvised explosive devices. . . .

We have also had convincing information that, for some time, the bin Laden network has been actively seeking to acquire weapons of mass destruction, including chemical weapons, for use against U.S. citizens and our interests around the world. . . .

The Shifa chemical complex in northeast Khartoum, Sudan, . . . is involved in the production of chemical weapons agents, including precursor chemicals for deadly V series of nerve agents like, for example, VX.

We also know that bin Laden has extensive ties to the Sudanese government, which controls this chemical facility. Before taking your questions, let me emphasize that although we are confident that some of bin Laden's network was involved in the criminal attack on embassies and the murder of more than 300 innocent victims, the actions we have taken today should not be viewed simply as retaliation for those attacks.

Rather, as the president and as Secretary Cohen have said, this has been an exercise of self-defense against an imminent and continuing terrorist threat. There can be no safe haven for terrorists.

Following are questions from reporters and responses from Cohen and Shelton:

Does this just involve U.S. strikes or missile strikes or will troops actually be put on the ground, albeit temporarily?

COHEN: Well, for the time being, we are not going to discuss this in view of the fact that there may be other operations that might be required, and we do not want to place any of our forces in any kind of jeopardy or compromising position. . . .

What are the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden right now? Do you believe that you killed him in these strikes?

COHEN: I have no idea where he is at this time. And we were -- designed this operation to attack his infrastructure, and that's precisely what we have done.

Our plan was to attack these sites with sufficient power to certainly disrupt them and hopefully destroy them. Some of these are solid structures, others are less so. But we believe that given the targeting that was done with the capability that was unleashed, it would cause sufficient damage to disrupt them for some time.

Were there U.S. casualties in those raids?

COHEN: Not to our knowledge, no. . . .

Could you also clarify, was it one training camp?

SHELTON: There are a total of four training camps. All four were hit. We only addressed one of those today. . . .

Did Pakistan provide permission for overflight, or were they -- did they participate in any way?

COHEN: Well, we're not going to discuss any operational details of this.

Did any other country take part in these raids, or was it just the United States?

COHEN: No. This was simply the United States.

In Khartoum, is that a residential area that that's near? What sort of area is that?

SHELTON: In Khartoum, the target was located in an industrial complex area. It is -- there are surrounding facilities. We did everything we possibly could to minimize the collateral damage associated with that. . . .

Are you at all concerned . . . that these strikes may in fact provoke retaliation somewhere?

COHEN: . . . We believe that a number of other terrorist activities and plans were underway. We have an absolute obligation, indeed a duty, and we'd be derelict in that duty if we did not take action to interrupt those plans and to try to insulate American people and our friends from these activities.

. . . By us taking action now, we hope to prevent more Americans from dying in the future. . . .

The other things that were being planned, do they also involve truck bombings or . . . did any of them involve the . . . planned use of chemical weapons?

COHEN: It was not specific in terms of whether it would be a bomb or other types of terrorist actions, so that's not something that we would try to be driven by. But we anticipated there could be future truck bombs, as we saw in the past cases. And so we took this action to, again, interrupt the training of these types of activities.

Secondly, we had information that led us to believe that Osama bin Laden and his organization were, indeed, trying to acquire chemical weapons and to utilize them in future activities. . . .

What we do know is the facility that was targeted in Khartoum produced the precursor chemicals that would allow the production of the type of VX nerve agent that has been talked about at some length.

Was that facility being used to assist terrorists with the knowledge of the Sudanese government?

COHEN: You'll have to ask the Sudanese government on that account. We do know that he's had an association in the past with the Sudanese government. We do know that he has had some financial interest in contributing to the -- this particular facility. . . .

Some Americans are going to say this bears a striking resemblance to "Wag the Dog." Two questions: Have you seen the movie? And second, how do you respond to people who think that?

COHEN: The only motivation driving this action today was our absolute obligation to protect the American people from terrorist activities. . . .

That is the sole motivation. No other consideration has been involved. The chairman and I have worked with others for the past week -- night and day -- working with the community, our intelligence community, and working with others. The only factors involved were to prevent the kind of terrorist action that killed 12 Americans last week and injured so many hundreds, and indeed thousands, more. And that is the only factor under consideration . . . .

Can you even say what [regional command] was in charge of this operation?

SHELTON: We will not comment on the types of forces or types of platforms that we used in this for operational reasons. . . . After Desert Storm, as I recall very well, a lot of detail was put out about how we attacked different targets, things of this nature. We are in a different ballgame today. This is a -- we're going against a terrorist organization, and that calls for some different techniques.

How close to weaponizing a chemical weapon was the Khartoum plant?

COHEN: That's a judgment that we can't make. We do know that this facility was used for the production of precursor chemi- cals that could be used for VX, producing VX.

Could you say what the evidence was that convinced you that Osama bin Laden was behind these bombings?

COHEN: . . . There's been a series of reports that we have analyzed, statements by Osama bin Laden himself, other information coming in as recently as yesterday about future attacks being planned against the United States.

But we are satisfied there has been a convincing body of evidence that leads us to this conclusion.

Is bin Laden a legitimate military target himself, personally?

COHEN: To the extent that he or his organization have declared war upon the United States or our interests, then he certainly is engaged in an act of war. . . .

Did we get permission from Sudan and from Afghanistan to wage these [attacks]? And did you notify the governments involved?

COHEN: Again, another operational matter that we're not going to discuss. . . .

Could you say whether these camps involved hundreds of people, dozens, scores? Can you give us any rough estimate on the number of personnel involved on the ground approximately?

SHELTON: . . . Intelligence has indicated that on occasion there were up to 600 that were in the one facility in Afghanistan. . . .

COHEN: And it could range anywhere from zero to that amount. So there's no way of telling at this time.

QUESTION: Were the imminent threats against other embassies or military bases?

COHEN: The answer's yes. . . .

Are you keeping the forces on standby for follow-on action?

COHEN: The answer is we will have a capacity to conduct other operations, if we need to do so.

The word assassination's going to come up -- that bin Laden is targeted for assassination. Under our current rules of war, . . . is he a legitimate military target?

SHELTON: . . . As the secretary has . . . indicated, we were not going directly after Osama bin Laden. It was an attack on his network of terrorist groups, as I think you can see from the targets.

And we will continue to go after that if we feel like it's appropriate and if the threats to Americans or American interests continue. . . .

Did we learn of some of these terrorist plots, the other threats out there, from the individuals already taken into custody in Kenya and Pakistan?

COHEN: No. We acquired the information from a variety of sources. And I believe the combination of those sources led us to this conclusion. . . .

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post

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