More Force Protection Needed
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, July 24, 1997 DoD and the General Accounting Office agree more protection is needed to shield service members from terrorist attack.
A GAO report released July 21 credits DoD with acting swiftly to reduce the threat of terrorism and says U.S. troops are better protected today from terrorist attacks like the one at Khobar Towers in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, that killed 19 Americans in June 1996.
"We realize, as the GAO pointed out, that there is no absolute level of force protection," said Pentagon spokesman Ken Bacon. "You can never say we've done enough [or] we've done everything we can do. You can always do more." He said DoD concurs with GAO recommendations to standardize vulnerability assessments and to be consistent carrying out threat condition security measures.
DoD disagrees, however, with the congressional investigators' recommendation that it adopt very detailed, prescriptive building-security standards such as those the State Department uses, Bacon said. The State Department basically only has to protect embassies and some houses, he said, while DoD has to protect a much wider variety of installations, such as airfields, staging areas, hospitals and headquarters.
"We believe because of that variety, prescriptive standards may be more harmful than helpful," Bacon said. DoD has already issued standards covering building and installation protection, guard and sentry duty and other areas, he said. It's the commander's job, though, to look at the standards, intelligence reports and the installation and to decide what protection is best in the face of whatever threats are present, he added.
DoD launched a major campaign to improve force protection immediately after the Khobar Towers attack, Bacon said. Facilities were made stronger. Dependents moved to the United States. Nearly 5,000 troops and 90 aircraft moved to a better defended air base. More extensive anti-terrorist policies procedures and training programs went into effect.
Military officials have now completed most of the recommendations made by an investigative panel headed by retired Army Gen. Wayne Downing. The panel studied the Khobar Towers bombing, evaluated regional security and made 26 recommendations. DoD, for example, is in the process of issuing special protective vests appropriate for hot weather conditions. All are to be delivered by the end of July.
"We have done an enormous amount in the last 13 months," Bacon said. "We will do an enormous amount in the next 13 months to perfect force protection and make it as strong as possible. We will take the advice of anybody who gives us good advice -- whether it's the GAO or anybody else -- on ways we can improve force protection. The secretary has made this a top priority."