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Central Command Chief Talks Anti-terrorism

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Aug. 29, 1997 – "Street smarts." That's what Central Command's new commander says U.S. troops need to counter terrorism.

"I grew up on the streets of South Philadelphia," Marine Corps Gen. Anthony C. Zinni said. "I survived. I knew around which corner or down which alley I should not go. We have to create that kind of street smarts in our people because in the end, that's more valuable than all the walls, all the standoff distances and all the physical aspects of security we can create."

Speaking Aug. 21 at DoD's worldwide conference on anti-terrorism in San Antonio, Texas, Zinni said awareness is key and military leaders need to educate service members. "The most important part is going to be what's between the ears of that service person, what they see and realize, what they sense and report," he said.

Zinni replaced Army Gen. H. Binford Peay in August as the regional commander responsible for U.S. interests throughout the Middle East and Africa. His area of responsibility includes 20 countries from Pakistan through the Arabian Gulf and Red Sea states to the Horn of Africa. U.S. troops serve in 15 countries under Central Command's watch.

World attention turned to Saudi Arabia in November 1995 when five Americans died in a terrorist bombing of a training center in Riyadh. In June 1996, a massive terrorist bomb demolished the Khobar Towers housing complex in Dhahran, killing 19 U.S. service members and injuring hundreds of others. The attacks triggered a DoD-wide force protection campaign.

Zinni, a 30-year veteran Marine, is no stranger to force protection or anti-terrorism. Following the 1983 Beirut barracks bombing that killed more than 240 American military personnel, he was put in charge of the new Special Operations and Terrorism Counteraction Section at Marine Corps headquarters.

"What struck me when I got into that job was how little prepared we were for this," he recalled. "What struck me more was how much the threat had very rapidly grown. We were faced with some tremendous security challenges."

Understanding the threat is crucial to countering terrorism, Zinni said. While terrorists used a large truck bomb at Khobar Towers, future attacks may involve chemical or biological weapons. Zinni said terrorists may soon gain access to "bugs and gas" and other weapons that could cause tremendous problems. Capabilities can change and so can terrorist tactics, he said.

In the past, terrorists were satisfied to take a great deal of risk for a small return, Zinni said. "Now the terrorists in our region seem to want the big target, the big attack. But what if they're willing to take greater risks, commit greater forces and accept greater casualties on their part to get fewer of us. We've seen that happen in the past." Preventing this type of attack would be almost impossible."

In the aftermath of the Khobar Towers bombing, Zinni said, Central Command spent hundreds of millions of dollars improving security. But, he noted, resources are limited. "It's a zero-sum game. It [force protection] comes at the expense of something else. If we take the measures we have to take, it [resources] will come out of some other capability. We have to be careful where we place these resources, what we're doing to our other missions."

Accomplishing the mission is the overarching goal, Zinni said. Force protection is but a part of that mission. Whether they're enforcing sanctions on Iraq or protecting U.S. allies and the flow of oil in the Persian Gulf, military missions involve risk, he said. "We are in a risky business. It's risky in training. It's risky when we're preparing to deploy. It's risky when we are deployed. ... In my position, virtually every day, we measure risk."

Commanders today work with limited resources and in some cases an overextended military, Zinni said. They have to weigh operational tempo and the effect on people and equipment. As a result, they are "pushing that operational risk -- that acceptable amount -- further and further out," he said. "That's where [commanders in chief] lose sleep and get more gray hairs. We live on beepers."

Force protection must be balanced against operational needs, Zinni said. "It would be easy to cancel a mission, to shut down an operation, to build tremendous walls and fortress ourselves overseas and not interact with the people we're there to help or to curtail a very important operational function that protects our interest in a region.

"If we do that, then we will have conceded the battlefield to the terrorist. The trick is to be able to accomplish your mission and within as much reasonable risk as you can take still protect the force. If you build the ideal fortress over there, you probably will not be able to carry out the mission."

Most of Central Command's 1,200 security assistance people, for example, work in high-threat areas, Zinni said. They have to travel and interact with local military and civilian officials. "All that puts them at risk. We try to minimize that risk, but we can never eliminate it."

It's up to field commanders to take all reasonable measures to protect their forces, Zinni said. He said the military must avoid creating a "zero defects" mentality, using 20-20 hindsight to evaluate commanders' decisions. "I want to be sure commanders who make reasonably good judgments, who are still able to execute their missions, have my backing and my support."

Since force protection needs vary, Zinni said, he opposes dictating prescribed standards. "I have no problem with submitting my standards for approval or concurrence up the line, but you cannot have one standard that's going to fit everybody," he said. "You cannot in some places even afford the kinds of physical security measures that would be [needed] worldwide.

"I have served in Korea. I have served in the European Command. I'm trying to imagine someone putting in a 1,200-foot standoff in a place like Yongsan or at some kaserne in Heidelberg. You can't do it. The host nation wouldn't let you do it. The expense would be too great. We have to be reasonable about this. There will be risk."

U.S. forces have been and are being targeted, he said. U.S. officials have thwarted some attacks, he said. Commanders must include this threat in their risk equation, Zinni said.

"The fact that we have had no incidents in over a year is not because there aren't people out there to get us -- or looking for the opportunity -- it's because so far, thank God, we have done the right things to be able to protect ourselves," he said. "More importantly, we have done all those right things and never lost a beat in our mission, in the demonstration of our resolve to our allies, and in the commitment we have to our national interests."

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