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Troops on High Alert in Saudi Arabia

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 17, 1996 – U.S. forces in Saudi Arabia are on high alert due to threats of further terrorist attacks, according to Pentagon spokesman Ken Bacon.

"There are very concrete reasons to worry there will be another attack," Bacon said at a news briefing July 11.

Terrorists have struck U.S. targets in the Middle Eastern kingdom twice in the last nine months. In November a 200-pound car bomb killed five Americans and two others at a U.S. National Guard training center in Riyadh. A 3,000- to 5,000-pound truck bomb killed 19 airmen and injured 450 more June 25 at Khobar Towers housing complex at Dhahran Air Base. About 3,700 U.S. forces are stationed at Dhahran Air Base in support of Operation Southern Watch.

The sophistication of the Dhahran bombing suggests more attacks are quite possible, according to a State Department public warning issued July 10. State Department officials said the U.S. Embassy, individual Americans and U.S. companies in Saudi Arabia have received threats, officials said.

The State Department warned all Americans in Saudi Arabia to exercise extreme caution, keep a low profile, reduce travel and be suspicious of mail from unfamiliar sources. They stressed that Americans should report any suspicious activity or vehicles, including license numbers and full descriptions.

Pentagon officials said local commanders continue to take all possible measures to protect U.S. forces. Since the November bombing, 130 added security measures were implemented at Khobar Towers, said Lt. Gen. Howell M. Estes, operations director for the Joint Staff, at a Pentagon news briefing July 12.

Officials have tightened security still further since the Khobar bombing. Concrete perimeter barriers have been moved to 400 feet from complex buildings. Service members moved from rooms facing the perimeter to inside rooms. Anti-vehicle ditches are being built. Some fences are being replaced by walls. A layer of Mylar to prevent shattering is being installed on buildings vulnerable to blast effects. More security forces are being deployed. Engineers are reformulating standards for blast protection. DoD officials are considering relocating forces to sites outside urban areas.

"Because of the nature of terrorism, it's very difficult to make a complex completely safe," Estes said. "They're going to strike us where we least expect it and where we're most vulnerable." But, Estes said, increasing security as much as possible will make it harder for terrorists to reach their target.

"There is no stone being left unturned to accomplish this purpose," he said. "I can assure you, we're doing everything humanly possible here at Central Command and at the local commander level to ensure the safety of our forces."

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