Cohen Cautious on Persian Gulf Progress
By Paul Stone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON -- Service members on duty in the Persian
Gulf can expect to remain there -- at least for now.
Although saying he hoped to reduce the size of the
30,000-member force soon, Defense Secretary William S. Cohen
said progress of the U.N. inspection process ultimately will
determine the timetable. In the meantime, he said, forces in
the Gulf are "doing an outstanding job" and "prepared to
take action if that becomes necessary."
During a wide-ranging interview with the Armed Forces
Radio and Television Service, Cohen said the "American
people ought to be very, very proud of their (service
members') dedication, patriotism and professionalism that
they demonstrate day in and day out."
The secretary said Iraqi President Saddam Hussein is
currently living up to his side of the agreement to allow
U.N. weapons inspectors full and unfettered access to
inspection sites -- for now. But as in the past, Cohen again
stressed, that's not going to be enough.
"He has to come forward with positive proof that he has
in fact destroyed all of those systems that he said he once
had," Cohen said. He was referring to Hussein's claims he
has destroyed 50 warheads filled with the deadly nerve agent
sarin, 25 Scud warheads, 157 bombs filled with biological
agents, 130 tons of chemical agents and more than 15,000
Cohen called this a "very major element" the Iraqis
must come forward with instead of trying to put the burden
on the U.N. inspectors.
In the meantime, U.S. operations in the Persian Gulf
and Bosnia threaten to strain the military unless Congress
approves supplemental funds to support the gulf build up.
Calling the budget squeeze a "significant problem,"
Cohen said unless Congress responds to a request for
additional funding by May 1, DoD will have to redirect funds
from other accounts, including training, readiness, and
operations and maintenance. Over time, the secretary said,
this could affect everything from training to procurement,
as well as hiring and potential furloughs of personnel.
The House and Senate have approved separate, very
different emergency military spending bills. Work on a
compromise bill will wait until late April, when Congress
returns from its spring recess.
Cohen said the funding is critical to both the Persian
Gulf operations and the Bosnia mission, which he believes
will eventually be seen as a major success story.
"We have seen many heavy armaments reduced or
eliminated from that region," Cohen said. "We have seen
about 300,000 active forces retired from duty there. We have
seen farmers going back into the fields. We have seen houses
being rebuilt. We have seen the economy starting to grow at
really unprecedented rates compared to any party of the
world in terms of their economic growth in the past two
While President Clinton has agreed not to set a new
date for complete withdrawal from Bosnia, Cohen said, this
does not mean troop strength there will remain at current
"The forces are coming down and the mission is not
being expanded," the secretary said. "We are, in fact,
making good progress as far as persuading our European
friends that we should have a specialized police unit that
will serve as a buffer between the local police ... and the
follow-on forces that come after SFOR so we don't have our
armed forces conducting what are essentially police
Cohen said the mission will now receive regular reviews
to determine how and the number of troops which can be
withdrawn at any given time.
He is equally optimistic about bringing the Czech
Republic, Hungary and Poland into the NATO alliance, and
said it will help spread stability and democracy through
Central and Eastern Europe.
"We would have strategic depth that would be obtained
by this process," Cohen said. "We have three countries who
will professionalize their military, who will modernize
their military and who will integrate that with NATO
Cohen said their addition to NATO may help prevent
future conflict in Europe, such as that which ultimately
resulted in the Bosnia mission.
"If you look at the enemy, it's no longer a Soviet
empire, but rather instability," Cohen said. "It's the kind
of thing we saw take place in Bosnia. ... We want to see
that eliminated. We think NATO enlargement will help."