DoD Begins Campaign to Thwart Terrorism
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jul. 18, 1996 Pentagon officials have shifted into high gear to thwart terrorism in the Middle East and elsewhere. They aim to be ready for any contingency, including attacks by chemical and biological weapons.
The Khobar Towers bombing in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, that left 19 American airmen dead and 450 wounded has sparked a vigorous campaign to safeguard U.S. service members, DoD officials said. U.S. forces in the Middle East, Bosnia and Turkey now face the threat of weapons of mass destruction in the hands of terrorists, according to Defense Secretary William J. Perry.
"We have to be prepared for chemical weapon attack, biological weapon attack, bombs even bigger than 3,000 pounds -- bombs in the 10,000- to 20,000-pound category," Perry said following a breakfast meeting with 15 U.S. senators at the Pentagon July 17. "We cannot provide adequate force protection against a threat of that intensity and scope simply by moving fences, adding guards and putting Mylar [plastic laminate] on windows," he said. "This requires a drastic change in the way we do business."
Perry and Army Gen. John Shalikashvili, chairman of the Joint Staff, briefed the group on a force protection initiative that may drastically change the way DoD configures and deploys forces in high-threat areas. Later in the day, the Senate voted unanimously to give the Pentagon $150 million next year to combat terrorism.
DoD officials are considering moving troops to bases outside cities and establishing unaccompanied tours in some areas where dependents are now allowed. Plans also include allocating more money for tighter security and more intelligence activities. The fiscal 1997 budget will include a $15 million contingency fund to serve as seed money for quick fixes while additional money is programmed, Perry said.
Perry has directed all the combatant commanders in chief to redouble their efforts to protect U.S. troops. "Terrorists have reached a new level of organization, sophistication and violence," Perry stated in a message to the commanders. Terrorist tactics and techniques are changing and challenging current anti-terrorist measures, he said, and underestimating terrorists' intent or capability could have catastrophic results.
DoD is preparing for what some may call a "worst case" scenario, Perry said. "We have been, in the past, charged with -- and with some justice -- being responsive to the last threat and ignoring what the feasible threat is," he said. "In this case, the determination of the terrorists, the fact that they're organized, well-financed and internationally based, leads us to believe the feasible threat could be the real threat."
DoD has reason to expect attacks in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain. "We have some information which suggests there may be specific threats to us in those countries," Perry said. "We're going to prepare across the board, and we're going to prepare for a very intense threat."
A flood of intelligence information is available about the terrorist threat, Perry said. He deemed it "very good" in providing a strategic assessment which puts forces on high alert. "It is much less useful in tactical intelligence, because there is so much of it," he said.
Much of the stack of reports the defense secretary receives daily, he said, is "misinformation -- wrong information provided by low-quality agents who like to appear knowledgeable." Some is "disinformation -- deliberately planted wrong information done to harass us, to cause us to have our troops spending all their time trying to protect themselves."
DoD is working with the CIA and Saudi intelligence officials to provide more useful intelligence. A "fusion cell," focused on terrorist and anti-terrorist action in Saudi Arabia, will consolidate U.S. and Saudi intelligence efforts. Counterterrorists are also tracking down and disrupting terrorists before they can act, Perry said.
U.S. forces in Saudi Arabia are braced for further terrorist attack. They know they may be hit again, even harder and soon, DoD officials said. A plan is now being prepared to move about 3,700 Operation Southern Watch forces from Dhahran to a remote Saudi base at al-Kharj, where they can be more readily protected, Perry said.
The move, originally suggested by Saudi officials several months ago, would be coordinated with Congress and host nation officials, Perry added. U.S. forces are considered guests at Saudi bases, and Saudi host nation support includes providing food, fuel, transportation and logistics.
The overall goal is to enhance force protection without degrading the mission, Perry said. DoD will be able to redeploy air operations to another base without affecting the mission, but some U.S. forces in Riyadh train Saudi forces there.
"Obviously that mission can't be performed if you move them 50 miles from Riyadh, so we'll have to take a different look at how we'll be able to enhance force protection for that group," he said. DoD intends to take additional security measures in Saudi Arabia, including moving forces, this summer, Perry said.
U.S. forces are in the Middle East to protect vital national interests, Perry stressed, and will not be forced out or intimidated by terrorists. U.S. forces maintain security and stability in the region, thereby protecting two-thirds of the world's oil reserves. The U.S. military presence is key to containing hostile forces in Iraq and Iran, he said.
"I invite anybody who suggests we should leave to look back to 1990 when we had to scramble to send 500,000 troops over there from almost a zero start," Perry said. "We now have a sufficient force in the area that we have a strong deterrent against another war starting there. And if a war starts, we can very quickly build up the force we need to deal with it."
The threat of terrorism in Saudi Arabia has gone from nearly nonexistent 10 years ago to the present critical level, according to a senior defense official. After a 200-pound car bomb in November killed five Americans and two others at Riyadh, DoD set out to improve its defenses.
An anti-terrorism task force dispatched a general-officer level team to every overseas unified command to assess security needs and anti-terrorism practices. The task force reported its findings and recommendations to Perry and Shalikashvili in June.
From November until June, U.S. and Saudi officials took more than 130 protective measures at Khobar Towers, U.S. Central Command officials said. Security was a primary concern after the Saudi government beheaded four terrorists convicted of the Riyadh bombing and officials noted suspicious activities around the Khobar Towers complex at Dhahran Air Base.
Immediately after a 3,000- to 5,000-pound truck bomb killed 19 U.S. airmen and injured 450 others at Khobar Towers, U.S. Central Command and U.S. European Command began reassessing force protection. Perry called on retired Army Gen. Wayne A. Downing, former head of U.S. Special Operations Command, to head a task force charged with assessing the bombing and evaluating security at other U.S. Central Command facilities.
The Downing task force mission is to look at the circumstances surrounding the Khobar Towers bombing at Dhahran Air Base June 25 and recommend ways to lower the risk of future terrorist attacks. Aug. 15 is the deadline for a written report on the findings.
DoD's anti-terrorism task force is now coordinating the military's response to the short- and long-term threat of terrorism. The panel includes DoD general counsel, comptroller and policy, public affairs and legislative affairs officials. The effort is led by a steering committee chaired by Deputy Defense Secretary John White and an anti-terrorism action team headed by Air Force Undersecretary Rudy DeLeon. The action team meets daily to assess ongoing activities and direct future efforts.