Terrorist Attack Warning Hikes Gulf Threat Level
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Dec. 16, 1998 The threat of a terrorist attack against U.S. targets in the Persian Gulf in the next 30 days has put American service members in the region on Threat Condition Charlie -- the second highest threat level.
Pentagon spokesman Ken Bacon said here Dec. 15 that intelligence officials had received "very credible and disturbing information" in the past two weeks indicating terrorist action is imminent. Threat Condition Charlie reflects that immediacy. Delta, the highest threat level, means an attack has begun.
Threats against Americans in the region are common, but some are taken more seriously than others, Bacon remarked. "This, we take seriously," he said. "We have increased our alert posture and we have taken other measures designed to protect Americans against such threats."
Over the weekend, U.S. embassies in Kuwait, Oman, Bahrain, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Yemen warned all American citizens to remain alert to suspicious activity and to take steps to reduce the profile and vulnerability of U.S. facilities. State Department officials called for high vigilance and suggested Americans keep a low profile, be suspicious of mail from unfamiliar sources and vary routes and times for all required travel.
The U.S. military presence in the region increased in size and strength in recent weeks due to heightened tensions with Iraq. More than 24,000 American troops are in the region, including about 2,400 soldiers participating in Exercise Intrinsic Action in Kuwait.
Many of the U.S. military forces in the Gulf work and live in relatively isolated, highly secure areas such as Prince Sultan Air Base in Al Kharj, Saudi Arabia, and Camp Doha, outside Kuwait City, Bacon said.
Eight of the 22 U.S. ships now in the Gulf are capable of launching cruise missiles. More than 200 aircraft support Gulf operations, including 15 B-52 bombers at Diego Garcia. Bacon said seven of the bombers are slated to depart the Indian Ocean island before Christmas.
Considering the ongoing international dispute with Iraq and the presence of known terrorist groups, the Middle East remains a high threat environment, Bacon said. A terrorist bombing in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, killed five Americans in November 1995. Nineteen airmen died in the June 1996 terrorist bombing of Khobar Towers in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia.
DoD dramatically increased force protection measures following the attacks. "Our entire military is spending much more time, energy and money on force protection now," Bacon said. "It's a much greater awareness issue among troops today than in the past."