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DoD Releases Report on Khobar Tower Bombing

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 18, 1996 – DoD needs more money, more people, better intelligence and advanced technology for force protection.

These are the conclusions of retired Army Gen. Wayne A. Downing and his independent review team after looking into the June 25 bombing at Khobar Towers in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. The attack killed 19 American airmen and injured nearly 500. An earlier bombing, Nov. 13, 1995, at a U.S.-led training facility in Riyadh killed seven including five Americans.

"Terrorism represents an undeclared war against the United States," Downing said at a Pentagon news briefing Sept. 16. Some enemies wage war through terrorism because they know it would be futile to challenge U.S. forces directly; they feel "our greatest vulnerability is our intolerance for casualties," he said.

Downing, Deputy Defense Secretary John P. White, and Army Gen. John M. Shalikashvili, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, released the review team's report and DoD's response as part of DoD's report to the President and Congress "Protection of U.S. Forces Deployed Abroad." Defense Secretary William J. Perry was fully briefed on the report but did not attend because he was meeting with allies in the Middle East.

As a result of the Khobar Towers attack, Pentagon officials are now adopting a radically different mindset on force protection, White said. DoD is changing aspects of its force structure, giving operational control of force protection to field commanders and accepting reponsibility for all combatant and noncombatant forces deployed in Southwest Asia. Noncombatant forces previously came under the Department of State.

"Terrorism is now an ever-present and serious threat to U.S. forces overseas," White said. "Nothing can bring back the 19 Americans who were killed or erase the injuries to 500 others, but we must do all we can to protect our forces from additional attacks. Every tragedy contains lessons for the future."

Three days after a bomb blasted a 50-foot-wide-by-16-foot-deep crater and ripped open the face of Khobar Towers' Building 131, Perry appointed Downing to examine the circumstances surrounding the fatal blast.

The former commander-in-chief of the U.S. Special Operations Command said his team's charter was to assess to what extent the casualties and damage sustained at Khobar Towers were the result of inadequate security policies, infrastructure or systems. Perry also asked the team to recommend ways to reduce casualties and damage from future attacks.

The team was not asked to do a criminal investigation, but was to report instances of malfeasance to the chain of command. Downing's team reported the commander of the 4404th Wing (Provisional) "did not adequately protect his forces from terrorist attack" and the chain of command "did not provide adequate guidance and support to the commander."

The report also stated the wing commander "was ill-served by the intelligence arrangement within his command, which focused almost exclusively on the air threat for Operation Southern Watch."

In a letter to President Clinton, Perry said he transmitted the Downing report to the secretary of the Air Force for evaluation and appropriate action. The commander of 12th Air Force is responsible for conducting a disciplinary review and is to report its findings within 90 days, he stated.

But the search for responsibility shouldn't obscure the fact that this was a terrorist attack, White said on The Newshour with Jim Lehrer. "Terrorists killed these airmen. It was a ... sophisticated attack," White said. "Our goal now is to ... do everything we can to make sure that does not happen again."

During their review, Downing's team interviewed more than 400 service members and visited 36 sites. They talked to the entire U.S. Central Command chain of command from its commander in chief to the sentries on the roof. Team members also analyzed thousands of documents.

In only seven months, the threat of terrorist attack in the peaceful Arabian kingdom dramatically jumped from almost nonexistent to critical, according to DoD officials. After the first attack, DoD strengthened intelligence gathering, made facilities more secure and generally tightened security in Saudi Arabia. More than 130 security measures were taken at Khobar Towers alone, but as events later proved, they weren't enough to thwart the terrorist operation that left a massive truck bomb to detonate 80 feet from the airmen's high- rise quarters.

While Downing looked into the attack, DoD took immediate action to enhance force protection, White said. U.S. forces were moved from Dhahran and Riyadh to less vulnerable bases. The move is scheduled to be completed by Sept. 20. Most family members in the Persian Gulf region returned to the United States. Combatant commands around the world reviewed their force protection measures.

DoD is now making force protection an "integral part of mission accomplishment," White said. As part of DoD's response to Downing's 26 recommendations, Perry issued DoD Directive 2000.12, "Combating Terrorism Program, Sept. 16. The directive turns previous advice into standards that raise the priority of force protection and ensure consistency, White said. DoD has also requested more money from Congress for protection measures.

Perry named the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff as his principal adviser and DoD's focal point for force protection. Shalikashvili said he is setting up a new office within the Joint Staff to combat terrorism.

"The new office will help me assist field commanders with force protection matters and will help me ensure force protection considerations are included in every aspect of our operations worldwide," Shalikashvili said. "To do this, we will look into force protection doctrine, standards, training requirements, as well as force protection programs and levels of funding. We will also look into innovative technologies and coordinate with our allies."

DoD is considering setting up a forward-deployed Central Command headquarters responsible for force protection for all U.S. forces on the Arabian Peninsula, Shalikashvili said. To improve continuity, he said, DoD is lengthening the tours of senior leaders and minimizing the short tour rotations of some service members and units. Theater- specific training, such as the realistic training troops heading for Bosnia received, is planned, he said.

DoD needs to improve intelligence operations, according to Downing. Military officials were warned of terrorist threats to U.S. forces in Saudi Arabia, he said. They had the time and motivation to reduce vulnerabilities, he said, but it was not enough.

"Tactical details were needed, and they could only have been provided by human intelligence," Downing said. The department must invest more time, people and funds to develop human intelligence and counterintelligence capabilities to thwart further attacks, he said.

According to Shalikashvili, DoD intends to improve tactical intelligence collection, analysis and dissemination. Defense officials are reviewing ways to increase funding and the number of people to satisfy the need for human intelligence -- inside information on terrorist organizations and their plans, he said.

Classifying intelligence at the lowest possible level is key to disseminating information, Shalikashvili said. "We must ensure that intelligence we acquire about terrorists can be sanitized and then quickly passed at the lowest classification possible to the individuals who need it," he said.

Using advanced technology can also help protect U.S. forces, Downing said. "The task force found a manpower-intensive approach to force protection used in the gulf -- sentries armed only with binoculars and their weapons on 12-hour shifts in 120-degree-plus heat, bomb dogs with an effectiveness of 15 to 30 minutes on guard at gates, crude highway traffic control devices ["Jersey walls"] used as blast protection barriers," he said.

"We can and we must provide our forces with state-of-the-art sensors, blast protectors, automated entry points, cargo inspection devices," Downing said. "We've got enough inspectors out there. We've got people going out and telling commanders what is wrong. We need people to go out and help, to point out deficiencies and then remain and make corrections and help commanders overseas install these advanced systems."

The chairman's new force protection office will provide professional technical assistance and information to units in the field.

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