Combating Terrorism in Saudi Arabia
Defense Issues: Volume 11, Number 59– Combating Terrorism in Saudi Arabia The U.S. military presence in the Middle East is essential to protect vital national interests. Despite recent terrorist attacks and the threat of more to come, the United States will not be driven from its mission.
Prepared statements of by Defense Secretary William J. Perry; Gen. John M. Shalikashvili, USA, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and Gen. J.H. Binford Peay III, USA, commander in chief, U.S. Central Command, to the Senate Armed Services Committee, July 9, 1996.
Perry. Mr. Chairman. The U.S. military is a family. We have just lost 19 members of our family, and we feel their loss deeply. But we must carry on the mission they were conducting. And we must learn from this tragic event and establish measures to provide better protection for our forces. There is no issue that I feel more deeply about or no task that I work at harder than the safety and the welfare of our military personnel. In pursuing that task, I have always had the full support of the committee, and I welcome the opportunity to discuss this with you today.
In February of 1993 when I came before you as the president’s nominee for the position of secretary of defense, I said, “The secretary of defense has the responsibility to oversee the Joint Staff and the CinCs [commanders-in-chiefs] in their direction of military operations. If I am confirmed as secretary, I pledge to give first priority to reviewing and assessing war plans and deployment orders, and I pledge to provide the required support to CinCs as they direct our forces in the field.”
After that hearing, you confirmed me in my position and to the best of my ability, I have carried out the promise that I made to you and to the American people. A critically important component in the oversight of military operations is ensuring appropriate force protection. The responsibility for the safety of our military men and women is mine, and I expect to be held accountable for carrying out that responsibility.
I carry out the responsibility for the safety of our military personnel in four ways:
* By making judgments on whether the missions we assign our military personnel are worth the risk of casualties. I manifest this responsibility every time I sign a deployment order.
* By judging the competence of our senior commanders — especially those who lead our unified commands — the four-star generals and admirals whom I recommend to the president and that you confirm for leadership of our deployed forces.
* By making clear policy statements regarding the priority of our missions. I sign off on each mission statement, which includes the policy on force protection for that mission.
* And by visiting our forces in the field to make judgments as to how our commanders are executing their missions, with special emphasis on force protection.
In my testimony today I will describe in more detail how I carry out these four responsibilities and specifically how they applied to protection of our forces in Saudi Arabia.
My first responsibility is to decide whether a proposed mission is worth the risk of American lives. No responsibility weighs more heavily upon me. I have articulated to you on numerous occasions my belief that when our vital national interests are at stake, we must be prepared to use military force, even at the risk of casualties.
While such a judgment may be thought of as a risk/benefit analysis, for me it is much more personal. I make such judgments every week when I sign operational deployment orders, I made such a judgment when I deployed our forces to Bosnia –- in the face of forecasts that our forces would be met with fierce armed resistance. I made such a judgment after the bombing of the Saudi National Guard facility in Riyadh, when I reconfirmed that the mission our forces are carrying out in the [Persian] gulf region is in our vital national interest.
This reconfirmation should come as no surprise to this committee. In every statement I have made on this subject, I have made clear my belief that the security and stability of the gulf region ranks as a vital national interest for the United States. That judgment has been U.S. national policy since the presidency of Franklin Roosevelt.
The gulf is the world’s energy storehouse, home to two-thirds of the globe’s proven oil reserves. At the same time, it is a volatile region. It is the reason we fought in Desert Storm and the reason we sent forces to deter Saddam’s [Hussein] threatened aggression in October of 1994.
Because the gulf region is so important to us and because it is so volatile, we have developed a several-part strategy to preserve the security and stability of the region:
* We maintain a significant presence in the region, including air power at host national bases and naval power on our ships in the gulf and the Arabian Sea.
* We maintain pre-positioned equipment in the region — a brigade’s worth of heavy armor in Kuwait, another brigade’s worth of equipment afloat and an additional brigade’s worth of equipment going into Qatar.
* We maintain lift capability that can get our forces to the gulf quickly if needed.
* And we maintain access agreements with the countries in the region and we regularly train with them to help build up their own capabilities.
Our military presence in the gulf region serves as a deterrence to rogue nations by reminding them that the U.S. will fight to defend our vital interests in the region. If deterrence fails, our military presence becomes the base on which we quickly build our fighting force, thereby ensuring a rapid military victory with minimum casualties.
I believe that our military presence in the region is essential to protect our vital national interests and carry out our strategy. We must not allow ourselves to be driven out by terrorists. That would not only reward and encourage terrorism, it would jeopardize our ability to defend our vital national interests.
The second way I carry out my responsibility for the safety of our personnel is to make judgments about who is best qualified to lead our military forces. The chairman is the key military adviser to me and to the president. I have enormous confidence in Gen. [John M.] Shalikashvili, and this judgment led me to recommend him for reappointment to a second term as chairman.
The CinCs of the unified commands are the key leaders who direct our troops in combat and in the daily operations that are most likely to take them into harm’s way. The CinCs must be warfighters of great experience and sound military judgment. Often they must also be diplomats, but most of all the CinCs must be leaders — commanders with the ability and will to make the tough calls when we hand them the mission of protecting America’s interests and carrying out our military strategies.
I made this judgment about military leadership when I recommended our current commander in chief of the Central Command, [Gen. J.H.] Binford Peay, for his position. The commander of the 101st Airborne Division in Desert Storm, a veteran of two tours in Vietnam, Gen. Peay probably has more combat command experience than any Army officer currently on active duty. He is a warfighter, a strategist and a diplomat. Our nation is fortunate to have a military leader of his ability in such a critical position.
The third way I carry out my responsibility for the safety of our personnel is by setting clear policy direction. That is the role for civilian leadership. We then rely on the military experts to make the plans and take the concrete steps to carry out those policies. For example, working with military advisers, civilians set the tasks for IFOR [implementation force] in Bosnia, but the military leaders determined the specific plans and activities that are carrying out those tasks. All of you who have visited our troops in the field know well how those operations and corresponding plans devolve downward until they reach the platoon and squad level, where each unit has its piece of carrying out the overall plan.
One of the missions for all of our operations is force protection. Every military plan must make this a priority. It is an inherent part of every operation and a basic responsibility of our commanders. Whether for training or operational deployments, commanders issue clear guidance on force protection and specify the applicable rules of engagement for each situation.
Sometimes force protection is a relatively easy task, but it must never be taken lightly, no matter how benign the environment. When troops are in any operation involving risk of combat or high threat from terrorism, force protection becomes critical and complex. Our commanders integrate anti-terrorism awareness training into military training at all levels. In the case of deployed personnel, the training is very specific as to the nature of the threat and the responsibilities of each soldier, airman, sailor or Marine.
Some critics scoff at the stringent rules by which we protect our forces in Bosnia – one full company assigned to guard duty for each battalion, convoys of four vehicles minimum, no alcohol consumption while in theater, flak jackets, helmets and weapons when outside secure compounds — but these are keys to force protection. I gave the order that I wanted force protection to be a priority, and Maj. Gen. [William] Nash determined that in his operating environment, these were key rules. I reviewed those rules when I visited him last week, and I fully support his decision to maintain such stringent measures.
Our operations in Southwest Asia take place in a uniquely difficult environment. Our pilots face daily risks over Iraq and must operate at peak performance. Our personnel using Saudi facilities may not face mines, but they must operate in a difficult cultural terrain. And they face a severe threat from terrorism.
We have long understood that terrorism is an insidious scourge that must be fought aggressively and with eternal vigilance. But today this threat is becoming even more complex and difficult to counter as old and new bad actors take advantage of weak governments in newly independent states, new technologies and rekindled ethnic rivalries. The Arabian Peninsula was long an island of relative calm in the midst of regional tensions. That is no longer true.
The Khobar Towers bombing has had a singular effect on the Saudi government. The king and his advisers now understand, I believe, that they are dealing with a threat that affects not only the regime itself, but also their culture, traditions and honor. We have understood the complexity of the terrorist threat for some time, but to the Saudis it is a relatively new phenomenon. We must help them appreciate the challenge by sharing intelligence and our knowledge of terrorist methods. We must never accept any loss with complacency, but we must also be realistic about the challenge. Every measure we take makes the work of the terrorist harder, but it does not make it impossible.
Terrorists always strike the weak link in our chain of defenses. Our goal must be to try to find and strengthen those weak spots first with what I call “passive defenses” — guards, barriers, fences, etc. But passive measures are not enough. We must increase our “active defenses” by getting better at gathering intelligence so that we can pre-empt or disrupt terrorist operations before they can come to fruition.
We must also work cooperatively with other governments, in this case the Saudis. After I visited with our troops in Dhahran last week, I flew with Gen. Peay to Jeddah, where we met with Minister of Defense Sultan [bin Abd al-Aziz Al Saud], who pledged his full cooperation and determination to find and punish the perpetrators.
I then expected to meet with Crown Prince Abdullah, but instead I was asked to meet with King Fahd. The king received me with the crown prince, Minister of Defense Sultan, Minister of Interior Nayif [bin Abd al-Aziz Al Saud] and Foreign Minister Saud [al-Faysal bin Abd al-Aziz Al Saud]. I would note that we were the first official Americans to meet with the king since his illness last November.
We have read many media accounts about the state of the king’s health. I can only tell you what I observed. The king was fully in control of the meeting. He met with me late in the evening for over an hour and then with his senior officials for an additional two hours.
In addition to expressing deep sympathy at our loss, he made absolutely clear his determination to bring the perpetrators to justice. He also emphasized to everyone in the room that he expected full cooperation between the Saudi and U.S. investigators. I explained to the Saudi leadership our assessment of how serious the threat was and the importance of making significant changes in the security measures for our forces.
The fourth way I carry out my responsibility for the safety of our personnel is by getting out to the field and visiting with troops and commanders. Through this practice, I get the confidence I need to make decisions that put people at risk. I see and hear how the commanders and troops understand the goals and policies I have set. I reassure myself that the tasks that I have set them are both worth the risks and doable with the forces committed. I talk to the political leadership of the countries where our troops are deployed and get a sense for myself of the operational environment. And I look at how our troops are protecting themselves.
I made three trips to Haiti during that operation. I have visited with our troops who are now in Bosnia four times, including once during their train-up period to get a firsthand look at their preparation. I was with them just after they bridged the Sava River, and I just returned from a visit with them over the Fourth of July. They understand their mission, and they are accomplishing it brilliantly.
I have made four trips to Southwest Asia, stopping each time in Saudi Arabia to visit with our forces and the political leaders. My third trip, in early January of this year, gave me the opportunity to make my own firsthand assessment following the bombing at the Saudi National Guard facility. During that visit, I re-emphasized that the first priority must be force protection. I also re-evaluated the mission of our forces in the region — the risks, the costs and the impact on operational tempo against the goals and benefits.
It is clear in retrospect that the actions we took to respond to the threat were not adequate to deal with the attack that actually occurred. But I still conclude now, as I did then, that this mission continues to be of vital importance to the United States.
I made another such visit last week. I went to Saudi Arabia to see for myself the results of the attack, to determine how we should respond to it and also to learn first-hand how our people had reacted. I found the troops sobered by the events of the preceding days, but their morale was strong. They clearly understand the importance of their mission and the role they fulfill in this important endeavor.
Even amidst the tragedy, we can take pride in the performance of our military personnel in the critical moments before, during and after the attack. This is a classic case of training paying off. The guards on the top of the building spotted the truck, recognized the danger and immediately radioed an alarm. Undoubtedly some lives were saved by the alertness and quick reactions of the guards. A patrol in a humvee responded to the alarm, and a security policeman arrived on the scene in time to warn away four or more joggers. He then went to investigate the truck and only survived the blast because it was deflected into the air by the barrier wall.
Training also paid off in how everyone behaved after the blast. Nineteen airmen were killed in the blast, but 200 more were injured seriously enough to visit the clinic for treatment. The Air Force has a buddy system, and the buddies took care of each other. Everyone arrived at the clinic accompanied by a buddy. All the troops have had some basic medical training, and the doctors reported to me that everyone who arrived at the clinic had had some emergency medical “buddy care.” So on this score, I am also satisfied — our commanders have trained the troops well, and they knew how to react in a crisis.
The troops want the perpetrators to be found and severely punished. But more importantly, they want to prove they will not be deflected from their mission. By the time I arrived, four days after attack, they had already restored the full operating tempo. Operation Southern Watch hardly missed a beat. The no-fly zone below the 32nd parallel is still in force.
Why, in the face of serious concern about force protection and extensive measures to improve force protection, did the Khobar Towers tragedy occur? I have asked [retired Army] Gen. Wayne Downing to make an independent assessment of the circumstances surrounding the bombing. I expect to be able to give you a complete answer to this question when Gen. Downing’s assessment is completed in August. But based on what I have already learned, I can give you a partial answer.
First of all, the security measures we introduced after the bombing of the Saudi National Guard facility were focused on a threat less powerful than actually occurred.
Secondly, and partially related to our understatement of the threat, our local commanders, for a variety of reasons, had not completed some of the measures that were prescribed and which they agreed needed to be done.
Why did we focus on a threat which proved to be understated?
For the decades of American presence there, it seemed that Saudi Arabia was safe from the terrorist violence occurring in other countries in the Middle East.
During the five years since Desert Storm, we have maintained an increased military presence, but the security provisions for the residences and offices of our personnel were roughly comparable to those for the forces based in Germany, Japan or even the United States. Yet even then we knew that the mission we are conducting in Saudi Arabia, so vital to us, is opposed by others.
Certainly it is opposed by Iraq and Iran, since our forces in the region deter them from actions they might otherwise take. And our very presence in Saudi Arabia is opposed by some religious extremists in that country, some of whom are willing to use violent measures to drive us out.
In November of last year, a group of Saudi religious extremists attacked the office of the U.S. program manager for the Saudi National Guard in Riyadh with a car bomb, killing five Americans. That was a wake-up call. At that point, we made what we believed to be a prudent judgment that this attack might not be an isolated event, but a new trend and a high terrorist threat level to Saudi Arabia.
In response to this judgment, we conducted analyses of the vulnerability of our forces in Saudi Arabia. In particular, the Air Force’s Office of Special Investigations conducted a vulnerability analysis of the Khobar Towers that was completed in January of this year. It was informed by full access to the intelligence information on the terrorist threat to Saudi Arabia.
But the intelligence information, while voluminous and pointing to a high threat level, was also fragmentary and inconclusive. It did not provide the user with any specific threat, but rather laid out a wide variety of threat alternatives.
Consequently, our commanders received recommendations to take a variety of actions. Many actions were completed prior to the June attack. Some focused on preventing an attack similar to the November bombing. Other actions focused on preventing attacks of a completely different nature and may have prevented a different type of attack from taking place.
My assessment is that our commanders were trying to do right, but given the inconclusive nature of the intelligence, had a difficult task to know what to plan for.
The critical limitation on anti-terrorist intelligence is warning on specific terrorist operations. You need a critical level of intelligence to prevent an attack. Short of that level of information, commanders have to plan for a wide range of cases.
This attack turned out to be 10 times as powerful as the previous attack. It is evident from what is already known about the attack that the bombers were well organized, had sophisticated training, did extensive practice and had access to military-quality explosives and detonating devices.
Of course, the investigation is still under way, but I believe that is reasonable to assume that these bombers had extensive support from an experienced and well financed international terrorist organization. Therefore, I believe that it is prudent to conclude that we are now facing a significantly higher and more sophisticated threat than was evidenced by the bombing of the Saudi National Guard facility in Riyadh.
Why were the recommended security measures not yet completed at the time of the attack?
Based on his view of the threat and the vulnerability analysis done by OSI [Air Force Office of Special Investigations], the base commander undertook an extensive set of security measures at Khobar Towers. Gen. Peay will describe them to you in his testimony.
Some of these measures were still in process, but most of them had been accomplished at the time the attack was made on Khobar Towers. Indeed, the security measures that were already in place undoubtedly saved dozens, if not hundreds of lives. However, it is also undoubtedly true that significantly fewer casualties would have occurred if all of the prescribed security measures had been implemented by the time of the attack.
Gen. Downing’s investigation will shed more light on why some of the recommended measures had not yet been completed, but it seems clear that local commanders would have put a higher priority on timing if they had perceived a threat as sophisticated and powerful as actually occurred.
What can we do to respond to the threat?
Gen. Peay, in his testimony, will tell you what additional security measures we have under way to deal with this higher threat level. Additionally, Gen. Downing is charged not only with assessing the Khobar Towers attack, but with recommending to us actions that should be taken to reduce our vulnerability to this terrorist threat, not just in Saudi Arabia, but throughout the Central Command.
But even before I receive Gen. Downing’s assessment, I can tell you that the changes required to deal with this level of threat will be complex, expensive and take many months to implement. It is fundamentally difficult to provide protection against such a threat, particularly in an urban environment. Therefore, I have instructed Gen. Peay to include in his recommendations a plan to move our military forces out of Riyadh and other urban environments, where it is difficult to provide adequate physical security.
But we should not limit our response to this outrageous attack to passive security measures. We should also go on the offensive. International terrorists do pose a more sophisticated threat to us, but they are also more vulnerable than local terrorists to intelligence penetration. Therefore we must intensify our intelligence targeting of international terrorists in the Mideast. The goal is to discover their identities, their sources of funds, their materiel flow and their plans in order to pre-empt them before they attack. …
But whatever we do and however much we invest in anti-terrorist activities, we cannot eliminate the risk. No one works harder at anti-terrorism than the British and the Israelis, and they have not yet found an adequate protection for their citizens from car bombs detonated in an urban environment. And we must expect that the terrorists will not give up on the goal of driving us from Saudi Arabia and the region. We must not let them succeed. We must not cut and run in the face of these attacks.
The risks of our mission in the gulf are real, but the mission justifies the risks. To recognize the importance of our presence, we have only to think back to 1990 when we had no deployed forces on the ground in the region. We ended up having to deploy more than half a million troops to protect Saudi Arabia and expel Saddam Hussein’s forces from Kuwait. We won the war, but at a great cost in dollars and lives.
It is far better to deter a war than to have to fight one. It is my judgment that this mission is worth the risks associated with it. Every day we have a variety of aircraft in the air over Iraq. Every day those operations include risks. And every day there will be risk of a terrorist attack. But we must take every action we can to minimize those risks.
Whose responsibility is it to minimize the risk to our troops? Force protection is the responsibility of everyone in the chain of command. That responsibility runs from the commander in chief of the Central Command at MacDill Air Force Base in Florida to his subordinate commanders in the field to unit commanders and on down to the lowest ranking noncommissioned officer.
But ultimately, the responsibility is mine as secretary of defense. I take this responsibility very seriously. The safety and welfare of our forces is my highest priority. But I assume that responsibility with the sober recognition that we can only reduce, and not eliminate, the risk. We are determined to reduce that risk, in Saudi Arabia and throughout the world, wherever American forces serve to protect America’s security.
Am I confident that everything is in place to prevent such an incident from happening again? No, I am not, and I never will be. Nor do I want any of our commanders to be complacent.
What our military personnel do for a living is inherently dangerous. Every training exercise carries risks. Every deployment involves risks, even when the deployments are to regions far more benign than the Persian Gulf. And every time I sign a deployment order — for a real mission or just an exercise — the safety of our personnel is foremost in my mind.
This is the heaviest burden I carry. I know that my decision will put someone’s life in danger. But it is a responsibility I cannot avoid by refusing to authorize the deployment. Safety concerns cannot paralyze us. When a tragedy happens, we mourn the deaths and share the grief of the families, but then we have to carry on, and we have take the actions that will reduce risks in the future.
But no action we or the Saudis can take will provide absolute guarantees of the complete safety and security of each of our personnel in Saudi Arabia. The mission to which both our governments are committed involves the vital national security interests of both nations.
Enhancing physical barriers, increasing vigilance and improving intelligence will go far as precautions against such attacks, but we can never fashion absolute defenses against the criminals and terrorists who seek to attack us. Just as our personnel are dedicated to the cause of freedom, others are dedicated to striking at its very core.
Mr. Chairman, I would like to sum up with four points.
First, the Khobar Towers bombing was a tragedy that revealed vulnerabilities in the force protection measures we had taken.
Second, we can expect further attacks on our facilities in the command. Therefore we are undertaking a major program to improve our force protection measures throughout the command. This will include plans to rebase our forces, now located in urban areas.
Third, we must capture and punish the bombers. If we identify another nation as the source of the bombing, we should retaliate.
Fourth, we must not let the bombers drive us out of the gulf region. The mission there is vital to our national security interest and must be continued.
Shalikashvili. Mr. Chairman and members of the committee. … In the past 18 months, the terrorist threat in the Persian Gulf region has gone from a relatively low level to a high level of threat. Thus, today, our challenge in this region is to continue to protect our vital interests, but to do so in the face of this significant new terrorist threat. It is now a much more difficult challenge, one where we must balance risk to our vital national interests along with the risk to our forces.
Balancing risks is an integral part of my job. As the principal military adviser to the secretary of defense, the National Security Council and the president, I direct strategic planning, oversee contingency operations and assist the president and the secretary in providing strategic direction for our armed forces.
Out of all of my responsibilities, nothing is more important to me than to properly formulate missions and shape military forces whenever our men and women have to be asked to go in harm’s way and, at the same time, to ensure that we continually look for better ways to protect our forces in the execution of their many varied missions here and abroad.
In all my travels around the world, I am continually reminded just how valuable our service men and women are to our country and how precious their lives are, both to their families and to the American people.
Force protection, safeguarding the health, safety and physical security of our men and women in uniform and their family members, is a key concern each time I recommend the approval of a plan or bring an operational deployment order to the secretary for his signature.
That was true when we had to send our forces to Haiti, and it is why we wear Kevlar helmets and flak vests in the summer’s heat in Bosnia. Details related to force protection, from special training to rules of engagement to operating procedures, are always a top priority whether we are conducting a noncombatant evacuation in Liberia or operating out of Saudi Arabia to deter Saddam Hussein from once again invading Kuwait.
Knowing that we will do our best to try to protect them when they are in harm’s way is one important reason why our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines have performed so well and why we have had so many operational successes. That was true during Desert Storm, and it is true today in Bosnia, in Korea and in the Persian Gulf region.
During my trip to the gulf in late May of this year, I found awareness of the terrorist threat and an appreciation of the importance of force protection to be high throughout the region. Given the expected threat, I found that all of the units that I visited had implemented extensive force protection measures, both in terms of physical protection and in terms of anti-terrorism education and training. Because actions to deter terrorists must be continuous and we must never be satisfied that we have done enough, additional measures were in the works to make security even better.
Less than a month before the bombing, I talked at King Abdul Aziz Air Base in Dhahran with some of the very same airmen who lived in the Khobar Towers. They were, like all of our young service men and women I visit around the world, a most impressive group with high morale and a sense that what they were doing was important to our nation and very much in the interest of peace and security.
Indeed, they knew theirs was a vital mission. They knew that the 4404th Composite Wing was there flying daily missions over Iraq to deter Saddam Hussein from once again invading his neighbors and threatening the world’s energy supply. And they understood as well that if they were not there, that one day we might again have to fight to defend our regional allies and, most likely, do so at great expense in American treasure and American lives.
These members of the 4404th Composite Wing with whom I spoke also understood terrorism and the need for constant vigilance. And I am certain they knew that the terrorist threat was real, and because of good training, because of the many security improvements that they had made and because of the rooftop sentries at Khobar Towers, a great number of lives were saved.
While all of our forces worldwide are sensitive to terrorism, those in Saudi Arabia were especially alert after the November 1995 car bombing of the office of the program manager for the Saudi Arabian National Guard modernization, or the so-called OPM SANG building. This terrorist act in Riyadh killed five Americans and two third-country nationals.
This tragic loss of life was indeed a wake-up call for that nation. Suddenly, we faced a different terrorist threat in Saudi Arabia, and we had to redouble our efforts to increase our defenses.
First, as an immediate measure, the secretary directed on Nov. 14, the day after the OPM SANG bombing, that all DoD activities at home and abroad review their physical security and anti-terrorism procedures. The purpose of this review was not only to heighten our current security awareness and security posture, but to establish as well a long-term mindset that would reduce the chances of a successful terrorist attack against U.S. personnel and facilities in the future.
Second, the secretary and I formed a DoD anti-terrorism task force. As part of this effort, we dispatched a general officer-level team to every overseas unified command to assess security needs and anti-terrorism practices, with a special emphasis on high-threat areas.
This task force aimed to develop policy recommendations that would strengthen DoD’s anti-terrorism efforts. Last month, the secretary approved the findings of this task force, and work was begun on its recommendations. Recently, this anti-terrorism task force report was released to the field.
The task force’s plan identified immediate and near-term changes required to reorient the way DoD personnel think and respond to terrorist threats. Among the many recommendations of this report are:
* The development of a separate, Office of the Secretary of Defense-managed program element for high-priority anti-terrorism projects;
* The development of numerous changes in intelligence procedures and the interagency adoption of DoD threat assessment methods;
* The inclusion of terrorism scenarios in military exercises of all types; and
* The development of DoD-wide training aids, including a new anti-terrorism handbook and a command information video.
The services were also directed to raise the priority of anti-terrorism readiness in their budgets and to make it a special interest item in all inspector general inspections.
Additionally, since OPM SANG falls under the authority of the U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia, we participated in the State Department’s Accountability Review Board, whose purpose was to examine the security-related aspects of the bombing and to report its findings and recommendations.
We are continuing to work hand-in-hand with the State Department in implementing the recommendations of their report. Given that many of the policy issues uncovered here concern interdepartmental cooperation abroad, the report clarifies Department of State and DoD responsibilities overseas and will ensure closer coordination between the chiefs of mission in various countries and the regionally oriented unified commanders.
And of course, today we are already giving Gen. Downing’s assessment every measure of support that we can. It is important to note here that Gen. Peay, the regional commander in chief, himself asked for this review.
But given the ubiquitous and ever-changing nature of the terrorism, anti-terrorism must be a continuous process. We can always improve, and we will never stop trying. However, in the future, we must face one hard fact: We will have more terrorist incidents.
Terrorism will always seek the weak link and take the most indirect approach to its ends. It will make every effort to strike at the seams, seeking shock effect and publicity over military utility. Terrorists will continue to be as patient as they are destructive. No one, not even the Israelis, who have more experience than any other people in dealing with terrorism, has figured out a way to decisively defeat it in the near term.
In the areas where our interests are great, we must accept that risk, while at the same time continuing to work consistently and methodically to reduce the risk to our men and women in uniform to the greatest extent possible. The Downing assessment is another step in that continuous process. But in the end, we cannot let acts of terrorism deter us from pursuing our vital interests.
Let me now ask that Gen. Peay outline for you his perspective, his command’s actions in connection with this tragic event and his efforts to minimize the risk of terrorism to our forces in Central Command.
Peay. Good morning, Mr. Chairman. I appear before this committee to provide my insight as commander in chief, United States Central Command, on the recent terrorist attack against U.S. military forces living at Khobar Towers Apartment Complex in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia.
Let me begin by expressing on behalf of all servicemen and women assigned to USCENTCOM my deepest condolences to the loved ones of our comrades-in-arms killed and wounded. While no words can adequately console our families during this tragic time, we can take comfort in remembering that these young Americans were struck down while heroically serving our nation. It is patriots such as these that defeat our country’s enemies in war, defend Americans abroad, protect the innocent, secure liberty and promote peace in the world.
In the aftermath of this terrorist attack, the American people and our political leaders rightfully seek details on the incident. They want reassurance we acted prudently to protect our people. Soon after this attack, I asked Secretary of Defense Perry and Gen. Shalikashvili to appoint an independent commission to assess the facts and circumstances surrounding the bomb attack on Khobar Towers, Dhahran, Saudi Arabia.
In response, Gen. Downing has been named to conduct such a review. Additionally, immediately following the terrorist strike, I directed my command to conduct a three-part force protection review stressing innovative approaches, nonlinear and “out of the box” thinking to deal with the problem immediately and in the near and long terms. I am confident we will all have a more thorough understanding of the details surrounding the terrorist strike on Khobar Towers once these various assessments are complete.
With this in mind, I’ll offer some initial thoughts on the terrorist bombing of Khobar Towers — views that may require revision later as a result of Gen. Downing’s commission.
USCENTCOM’s mission is clear and reflects the imperatives associated with defending our nation’s enduring and vital interests in this complex region. We aim to accomplish the following:
* Assure the security of American citizens and property abroad;
* Ensure uninterrupted access to regional resources, freedom of navigation and access to commercial markets;
* Promote the security of our Arab friends and Israel and comprehensive Middle East peace;
* Assist friendly regional states in providing for their legitimate self-defense needs while enhancing their individual capabilities to contribute to collective defense; and
* Deter attempts by hostile regional states to achieve geo-political gains by threat or use of force.
We perform this mission in an enormously complex and volatile region. Our area of responsibility consists of 20 countries, stretching from the Horn of Africa and Egypt through Jordan and the gulf states to Afghanistan and Pakistan, and includes the waters of the Red Sea, Gulf of Aden, Gulf of Oman, Arabian Gulf and western half of the Indian Ocean. Home to 427 million people making up 17 different ethnic groups, 420 tribal groupings, six major languages and hundreds of dialects, it is a place of ancient antagonisms and rivalries. On any given day, at least 13 internal or external conflicts plague the region, ranging from terrorists to border disputes to interstate wars; conflicts rooted in long-standing religious and tribal strife, border disputes, competition for resources, economic strains and exploding populations.
Our multifaceted mission calls for us to conduct what I view as three distinct but inextricably linked “battles”: deep, close and rear.
The deep battle is those long-term threats and requirements for U.S. forces five to 10 years from now. It includes meeting the challenges of hostile states armed with ballistic missiles and weapons of mass destruction, an aggressive Iraq, an expansionist Iran, India and Pakistan’s festering conflict, and stability and peaceful change within regional states.
Achieving our long-term goals means acquiring a multilayered theater missile defense; assisting regional friends in standing up effective defensive military forces; pre-positioning ashore combat equipment and supplies that support accomplishment of our war plans; completing defense cooperation agreements with regional states; and maintaining the right mix of lethal forward-positioned U.S. air, ground and sea forces.
The close battle involves near-term threats to and requirements for U.S. forces from the present out to five years. It includes enforcement of maritime intercept operations against Iraq in support of U.N. sanctions, conducting Operation Southern Watch over southern Iraq, deterring Iraqi and Iranian aggression, combating state-sponsored terrorism, improving military capabilities of regional friends, securing the flow of oil from the gulf and enforcing freedom of navigation on international waterways.
We do these things by maintaining a relatively small, robust, but effective mix of U.S. military forces. Under the command of Navy Central Command/Fifth Fleet we routinely position in the region a carrier battle group, an amphibious ready group and other ships armed with Tomahawk missiles.
Under the command of Joint Task Force Southwest Asia, we maintain a lethal package of aircraft located in various regional states, including Saudi Arabia. We also periodically position an Air Force expeditionary force to augment our other air resources. In addition, we rely on several Army Patriot batteries for theater missile defense against ballistic missiles.
We ensure a rapid reaction to hostility by pre-positioning military hardware and supplies for all services throughout the region, routinely exercising with regional friends and carrying out aggressive intelligence work. Finally, we support the improvement of the legitimate defensive capabilities of our regional friends through security assistance programs and exercises.
And lastly there is the rear battle, those immediate threats to and requirements for U.S. forces within regional states. It includes pursuing anti- and counterterrorism, responding to natural and manmade disasters and promoting internal stability of regional friends. To handle this rear battle, we must establish secure working and living areas, oversee aggressive security operations, engage in intelligence-related activities, carry on military-to-military relations and conduct military exercises and security assistance programs.
Three battles — close, deep and rear — all of which must be won if we are to secure America’s vital interest in the region. I am asked frequently which of these is the first priority. I say they are all first priority. We must fight these three battles simultaneously. This is the context for understanding the terrorist threat in the region. We do not have the luxury of focusing only on defending against terrorist attacks. Our forces are not in the region to defend a series of bases and enclaves. We are there to defend our nation’s vital interests by deterring Iraqi and Iranian aggression, flying aerial missions in support of U.N. sanctions, enforcing maritime intercept operations. Yet we must and will take appropriate measures to protect our personnel living in regional states. Three battles — each essential to mission accomplishment.
To direct these myriad of military requirements, I rely on several superb commanders organized into a clear chain of command.
* Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Central Command (Vice Adm. [John] Redd), Bahrain;
* Commander, U.S. Air Forces Central Command (Air Force Lt. Gen. Charles Franklin), Shaw, AFB [Air Force Base], S.C.;
* Commander, U.S. Army Forces Central Command (Army Lt. Gen. Wallace Arnold), Atlanta, Ga.;
* Commander, U.S. Marine Forces Central Command (Marine Lt. Gen. Jefferson Howell Jr.), Honolulu, Hawaii;
* Commander, Special Operations Command Central (Army Brig. Gen. Philip Kensinger Jr.), MacDill AFB, Fla.
Within the region, Vice Adm. Redd is the only component commander positioned forward. The other component commanders rely on subordinates to oversee ongoing military operations in the region. In this context, commander, Joint Task Force Southwest Asia, Maj. Gen. [Kurt B.] Anderson, oversees operations in support of Operation Southern Watch over southern Iraq, reporting directly to headquarters, U.S. Central Command.
Among his forces is CENTAF’s [U.S. Air Forces Central Command] 4404th Wing (Provisional), commanded by Brig. Gen. [Terryl] Schwalier. Brig. Gen. Schwalier’s force lives and works out of various locations in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, UAE [United Arab Emirates] and, this morning, Qatar. These two local commanders are responsible for discharging their combat missions as well as overseeing force protection.
I believe that this chain of command is clear. My commanders’ intent on conduct of all missions is clear. Rules of engagement are clear. And the daily assessment of internal and external threats is clear, to the best of our collective ability to determine them.
Accomplishing our missions in the region in general, and in Saudi Arabia in particular, means achieving success in a complex operational environment. I want to stress two parts of this environment. The first part involves understanding the Saudi culture and way of doing business. The second part involves the dynamics of managing operational risk.
We need to keep in mind that our relationship with the Saudis is based on promoting our mutual interests. We are not colonizing the country. We do not seek to infringe on their culture. We respect their way of life, but we do not intentionally allow these efforts to endanger our servicemen and women.
Over the last several decades, our government has considered Saudi Arabia one of the safest countries in the world. Over 40,000 American civilians live and work in Saudi Arabia as of this morning. What’s more, the U.S. military has consistently enjoyed a close relationship with the Saudis that is the envy of nations throughout the world.
What may appear as Saudi indifference or unwillingness to act on an issue is, in fact, a reflection of their different sense of time. Similarly, what may appear as footdragging by various levels of government is often a reflection of the compartmentalized nature of Saudi bureaucracy and decision making. Decisions at all levels of the Saudi government are slow by U.S. standards and are often reached by consensus. In addition, the king’s role as custodian of the two holy mosques produces intense Saudi sensitivity to issues involving their sovereignty. Our sensitivity to these dynamics promotes a friendship and internal stability supportive of U.S. national interests.
Another aspect of the operational climate that must be understood is the manner in which I, as a theater commander, and my subordinate commanders manage operational risk. Our relatively small forward presence reflects the recognition that local societies can be easily oversaturated, producing the very instability we seek to prevent. In addition, the diverse threats found in the region require a blend of service capabilities involving air, ground, sea and special operations forces.
Concurrently, our nation’s senior leaders are carefully managing America’s smaller post-Cold War military forces to carry out diverse global missions while maintaining the readiness of the force. These factors require all of us in senior military positions to manage the risk of having the right combination of force positioned forward; of having sufficient military punch to respond in times of crisis, as in Vigilant Warrior in October 1994, or to transition to full-scale war; of watching the terrorist menace without ignoring the Iraqi and Iranian threats; and of providing a satisfying and safe quality of life for our servicemen and women.
Understanding how and why the bombing at Khobar Towers occurred involves recognizing the changing nature of the terrorist threat in Saudi Arabia. Though some have attempted to compare the Khobar Towers bombing with the suicide attack on the U.S. Marine Barracks in Beirut in 1983, the differences are striking.
Prior to the bombing of OPM SANG last year, there were very few terrorist incidents directed against Americans within the kingdom. In 1991, terrorists attacked a bus in Jeddah, wounding three U.S. airmen. The perpetrators were subsequently caught and executed by the Saudis.
Saudi Arabia is a prosperous, stable country. It is not in the grips of civil war. It does not suffer the destruction and chaos associated with a multitude of warring extremist groups. It is not caught in the middle of a conflict between warring nations, as was Lebanon with respect to Syria, Iran and Israel. U.S. forces are not engaged in active combat actions against local military groups, as was the United States in Lebanon, where Marines were employing small arms, artillery, naval gunfire and air strikes against Druze and Amal Shiite militiamen.
Still, we recognize that Middle Eastern terrorism has evolved over the years. There are several groups operating within our area of responsibility and interest, groups like Hamas, Hizballah, Al-Jihad. Most receive financing, weapons and sanctuary from countries like Iran and Sudan.
Recently we have seen growth in “transnational” groups comprised of fanatical Islamic extremists, many of whom fought in Afghanistan and now drift to other countries with the aim of establishing anti-Western, fundamentalist regimes by destabilizing traditional governments and attacking U.S. and Western targets. Their small, cellular structure and tendency to operate independently of state sponsors complicate monitoring of their activities, to include preparation for terrorist attacks.
We also are sensitive to the emergence over the last few years of anti-Saudi government groups. Organizations like the Committee for the Defense of Legitimate Rights, based in London, and the Islamic Movement for Change, within Saudi Arabia, are believed to be behind recent violence in the kingdom. But their direct relationship with the transnational terrorist cells remains unclear.
This theater strategic background frames the context for the terrorist attack on Khobar Towers and highlights the challenges our military leaders in Saudi Arabia confronted as they implemented force protection measures. Let me offer these initial thoughts:
First point: USCENTCOM and subordinate commands competently fulfilled their intelligence, analysis, collection and dissemination responsibilities prior to the Khobar Towers bombing.
USCENTCOM, its subordinate commands and the interagency conduct thorough intelligence work seven days a week, 24 hours a day. I personally review key intelligence information on all threats, to include the terrorist threat, every day. The same information is shared with all senior commanders, to include those in Saudi Arabia.
Difficulties arise in detecting specific acts of terror before they occur. The terrorist is a criminal, not a soldier. He strikes indiscriminately at the target of his choosing, with any means, at any time. All targets are legitimate in his eyes. He seeks to inflict as much damage as possible to horrify and shock the local population and global audience and to embarrass the leaders of a country. Under the circumstances, there in no way to achieve absolute security for our military people or civilian citizens living abroad.
An initial review of the intelligence relating specifically to Saudi Arabia and Khobar Towers in the months prior to the Khobar Towers bombing reveals an increase in suspected surveillance, but no clear indication of an impending major terrorist attack.
Second point: USCENTCOM, its component commands and other U.S. military organizations in the kingdom have competently accomplished their missions and command responsibilities prior and subsequent to the OPM SANG and Khobar Towers bombing.
I have already explained the complexities associated with conducting our rear battle in Saudi Arabia and the difficulty associated with detecting the terrorist’s method, time and nature of attack.
Prior to the OPM-SANG bombing of November 1995, USCENTCOM pursued a vigorous anti-terrorist program in cooperation with the American Embassy and Saudi government. Given the large U.S. civilian population in the kingdom and the history of relative freedom from terrorist attacks, we adopted prudent force protection measures, employing security fences, guarded entry points and aggressive host nation and U.S. guards and patrols.
The November 1995 OPM SANG bombing was a watershed, demarcating a new escalation in the terrorist threat. It was for the Saudis what the World Trade Center bombing was for Americans.
Soon after the bombing, I met with our ambassadors in the region, including those in Egypt, Kuwait, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, United Arab Emirates and Pakistan, to discuss our shared security responsibilities in response to the changing terrorist threat and associated force protection measures. Concurrently, I met with my senior component commanders and with senior U.S. military leaders in regional countries to review the terrorist threat, chain of command responsibilities, and legal and military force protection requirements.
Subordinate commanders used these meetings to share their concerns on force protection and to brainstorm additional safeguards. We used USCENTCOM’s midwinter commander’s conference to conduct follow-on discussions on force protection. In addition, I raised the threat level from “medium” to “high” and directed a theaterwide reassessment of security of our facilities in the region.
Upgrading specific force protection measures is complicated because each country in the region confronts different types of threats and reflects unique internal political and social conditions. What’s more, urbanization, road networks, availability of facilities and time associated with completing all security precautions [have] affected the speed with which we have undertaken security upgrades theaterwide.
We have undertaken various security-related inspections throughout the region, a daunting task when you consider that I am responsible for over 50 military facilities and sites for combatants in the region and, between the chiefs of mission and myself, hundreds of other facilities and housing areas for military noncombatants. Nevertheless, we have completed 50 assessments since January 1996- – assessments that led to further security enhancements.
As is the case with any military defense, we are always improving our positions, always collecting and analyzing intelligence, continually replacing sandbags, enhancing perimeters, installing improved sensors and early warning devices, employing guard dogs, positioning machine guns and increasing the number of guards and patrols. Consequently, what we observe at the time of a terrorist strike is a snapshot of the status of a facility at the time of attack. This was true for Khobar Towers on June 25, 1996.
Third point: Commanders JTF-SWA and 4404 Wing (Provisional) responded with appropriate actions commensurate with the existing terrorist threat prior to the Khobar Towers bombing.
During November 1995-April 1996, the local military commanders responded to the OPM SANG bomb by reassessing security at Khobar Towers, one of the largest of many facilities under their control. They raised their local threat conditions, setting into motion more stringent force protection measures designed to contend with various types of terrorist strikes, to include a bomb with a blast effect similar to what was used during the OPM SANG bombing.
Enhancements included upgrading fences; adding additional concrete barriers along access roads; establishing a single well defended exit/entry point; clearing fields of view along perimeters; denying vehicles access to garages; blocking service roads between buildings; establishing no-parking areas near buildings within the compound; increasing U.S. patrols and guards; requesting and receiving additional Saudi guards and patrols; inspecting all mail, parcels and deliveries; and augmenting their staff with physical security experts.
Suspicious security-related incidents in early spring caused local commanders to enact even more rigorous security measures commencing April 1, 1996. These included adding more concrete barriers along the fence line, boosting standoff along perimeter fences, increasing Saudi patrols outside of the fence line, getting the local police to check license plate numbers of suspicious vehicles and positioning a manned, sand-filled dump truck to provide an emergency block of the entrance.
To summarize, the local commander implemented over 130 security measures between November 1995 and 25 June 1996. Furthermore, additional force protection-related supplies were on order and more actions were being planned or awaiting Saudi approval when the terrorists struck on June 25, 1996.
Were these measures reasonable given the terrorist threat assessed at the time?
While reserving final judgment until official reviews are completed, we should note the terrorists never penetrated the compound; the size of the bomb was unprecedented for any of the Gulf states, equivalent to between 3,000 and 5,000 pounds of high explosive[s]; and the terrorists were, in fact, detected as they positioned the truck containing the bomb, allowing a few minutes for our people to begin to clear the building.
While tragically 19 of our servicemen were killed and several hundred others wounded, it could have been worse: Several hundred could have been killed. The measures taken appear to have prevented this incident from being catastrophic.
Since the bombing on June 25, we have worked mightily to further upgrade security at Khobar Towers, implementing over 90 measures thus far. These include working with Saudi officials to substantially increase the standoff on the north and east sides of the perimeter, the areas deemed most vulnerable to another terrorist strike; removing personnel from all buildings near perimeters or moving them to rooms that do not overlook the perimeter; installing tire shredders near the main gate; constructing additional machine gun bunkers to cover traffic at the main gate; making bomb dogs available day and night. In sum, our leaders are strengthening their defenses and preparing for another attack.
Fourth and last point: Our servicemen and women at Khobar Towers performed magnificently prior to and subsequent to the terrorist attack.
Prior to the attack, they labored in 115 degree heat to erect protective measures. Guards overcame the drudgery of their duty to maintain vigilance 24 hours a day. And leaders continued to press for additional security measures up until the time of the attack.
In the aftermath of the explosion, our people performed flawlessly in evacuating the wounded, performing triage and first aid, providing more advanced medical care and evacuating buildings. In addition, the Saudis acted immediately to evacuate our most seriously wounded to civilian hospitals and to augment our medical staff. The actions of our people were inspirational.
And as the smoke cleared in the morning of June 26, 1996, the men and women living at Khobar Towers continued their mission: Pilots prepared to launch air operations over southern Iraq, Patriot batteries remained ready, and security personnel immediately began to improve positions.
When I arrived at Khobar Tower three days after the bombing, I was struck by the dedication and selflessness of our people, their courageous effort to deal with the grief of losing friends, their ability to overcome the confusion to continue operational missions. I was impressed with the work done by the commander of the 4404th, Brig. Gen. Schwalier. For it was this commander who had to deal with the immediate crisis, take care of the wounded and dead, reorganize security, coordinate with the Saudis, keep higher headquarters informed and provide information to the media.
It is easy to forget that his responsibilities extended beyond security at Khobar Towers. While he had a staff and subordinate commanders to assist him, he was, nevertheless, responsible for air operations in Iraq and in the gulf. He had people living and working on 10 sites in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Jordan, Oman, Qatar and UAE. He had been aggressive in upgrading security in all of them over the previous seven months. And as I have already noted, he was in the process of continuing force protection improvements when the bomb detonated.
In the wake of this attack, I have directed a series of initiatives to immediately upgrade our security posture in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the region. This effort will eventually incorporate Gen. Downing’s recommendations. Meanwhile, we are continuing to conduct necessary intelligence relating to the apprehension of the Khobar Towers terrorists and on future terrorist activities in the region. Our USCENTCOM force protection team is re-examining our procedures and devising additional upgrades — from facility improvements and hardening of sites to new types of sensors to requirements for additional security personnel. Concurrently, subordinate commanders are looking at better locations for housing our people.
We are continuing to follow through with our counterterrorist activities, those designed to prevent a terrorist act before it occurs or to neutralize a group entirely, just as occurred last week when our law enforcement people arrested suspected terrorists in Arizona before they could carry out terrorist bombings. Yet the success of this effort hinges on making significant improvements in our human intelligence on terrorist organizations in the region. My bottom line: We will learn and improve from this incident at Khobar Towers.
Even with additional physical security upgrades, however, we must recognize that we will remain vulnerable to terrorist attacks. No amount of money or physical security upgrade alone can stop a determined terrorist. We must recognize that while terrorism has been a threat to our country for many years, it is evolving and growing more sophisticated. We must keep in mind it is both a criminal act and way of war and our servicemen and women are on the frontline of terrorism everywhere in the world.
We mourn for our fallen comrades. it is the heart-wrenching part of the profession of arms. Some forget that placing our servicemen and women in harm’s way around the world involves risk. While the American people have every right to demand