Security officers patrol Olympic Park in Sochi. (Kevin Liles/USA Today)
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told reporters Friday that the United States will be ready to remove Americans from Sochi in the event of a catastrophic terror attack at the upcoming Winter Olympics.
“If we need to extract our citizens, we will have appropriate arrangements with the Russians to do this,” Hagel said, according to NBC.
Senior administration officials said Friday during a background security briefing for reporters that there was no specific evacuation plan for the roughly 10,000 Americans expected to attend the Games but that military commanders in the Department of Defense have been analyzing the assets available to them – including two Naval ships deployed to the Black Sea – should the need arise for a mass rescue. The officials requested anonymity to discuss the continuing concerns related to Olympic security in Russia.
“If we’re called on to do that in coordination with the State Department who makes those decisions, we’ll be prepared to do it,” one of the officials said.
Meanwhile, the State Department updated the travel alert for the Sochi Games it first issued last week to include “the possible presence of a so-called “black widow” suicide bombers in Sochi” but added that those reports emanating from the Russian government haven’t been corroborated and that the U.S. government continues to seek further information.
Three suicide bombings since Oct. 15 in the city of Volvograd, roughly 600 miles from Sochi, have given rise to fears that Islamic militants from the North Caucasus region may try to disrupt the games.
Russian officials have vowed to keep the games safe with thousands of police and special forces securing the Olympic zone and competition venues, but U.S. officials fear soft targets like hotels and transportation hubs outside the so-called “ring of steel” may be vulnerable.
NBC Olympics president Gary Zenkel told reporters the Russians have built “a tremendous security force” and said the network is confident both athletes and its employees will be safe in Sochi.
“We have never seen the type of security that we are now seeing in Russia at any prior Olympic Games in terms of the credentialing, surveillance and any amount of resources that have been committed to this area,” Zenkel said, according to The Wrap.
Yuri Ushakov, a top foreign policy advisor to Russian president Vladimir Putin, told Russian news agencies roughly 60 heads of state have confirmed their attendance at the Games. President Barack Obama has said he will not attend.