97602. Central Command Chief Talks Anti-terrorism
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON -- "Street smarts." That's what Central Command's new
commander says U.S. troops need to counter terrorism.
"I grew up on the streets of South Philadelphia," Marine Corps
Gen. Anthony C. Zinni said. "I survived. I knew around which corner or
down which alley I should not go. We have to create that kind of
street smarts in our people because in the end, that's more valuable
than all the walls, all the standoff distances and all the physical
aspects of security we can create."
Speaking Aug. 21 at DoD's worldwide conference on anti-terrorism
in San Antonio, Texas, Zinni said awareness is key and military
leaders need to educate service members. "The most important part is
going to be what's between the ears of that service person, what they
see and realize, what they sense and report," he said.
Zinni replaced Army Gen. H. Binford Peay in August as the
regional commander responsible for U.S. interests throughout the
Middle East and Africa. His area of responsibility includes 20
countries from Pakistan through the Arabian Gulf and Red Sea states to
the Horn of Africa. U.S. troops serve in 15 countries under Central
World attention turned to Saudi Arabia in November 1995 when five
Americans died in a terrorist bombing of a training center in Riyadh.
In June 1996, a massive terrorist bomb demolished the Khobar Towers
housing complex in Dhahran, killing 19 U.S. service members and
injuring hundreds of others. The attacks triggered a DoD-wide force
Zinni, a 30-year veteran Marine, is no stranger to force
protection or anti-terrorism. Following the 1983 Beirut barracks
bombing that killed more than 240 American military personnel, he was
put in charge of the new Special Operations and Terrorism
Counteraction Section at Marine Corps headquarters.
"What struck me when I got into that job was how little prepared
we were for this," he recalled. "What struck me more was how much the
threat had very rapidly grown. We were faced with some tremendous
Understanding the threat is crucial to countering terrorism,
Zinni said. While terrorists used a large truck bomb at Khobar Towers,
future attacks may involve chemical or biological weapons. Zinni said
terrorists may soon gain access to "bugs and gas" and other weapons
that could cause tremendous problems. Capabilities can change and so
can terrorist tactics, he said.
In the past, terrorists were satisfied to take a great deal of
risk for a small return, Zinni said. "Now the terrorists in our region
seem to want the big target, the big attack. But what if they're
willing to take greater risks, commit greater forces and accept
greater casualties on their part to get fewer of us. We've seen that
happen in the past." Preventing this type of attack would be almost
In the aftermath of the Khobar Towers bombing, Zinni said,
Central Command spent hundreds of millions of dollars improving
security. But, he noted, resources are limited. "It's a zero-sum game.
It [force protection] comes at the expense of something else. If we
take the measures we have to take, it [resources] will come out of
some other capability. We have to be careful where we place these
resources, what we're doing to our other missions."
Accomplishing the mission is the overarching goal, Zinni said.
Force protection is but a part of that mission. Whether they're
enforcing sanctions on Iraq or protecting U.S. allies and the flow of
oil in the Persian Gulf, military missions involve risk, he said. "We
are in a risky business. It's risky in training. It's risky when we're
preparing to deploy. It's risky when we are deployed. ... In my
position, virtually every day, we measure risk."
Commanders today work with limited resources and in some cases an
overextended military, Zinni said. They have to weigh operational
tempo and the effect on people and equipment. As a result, they are
"pushing that operational risk -- that acceptable amount -- further
and further out," he said. "That's where [commanders in chief] lose
sleep and get more gray hairs. We live on beepers."
Force protection must be balanced against operational needs,
Zinni said. "It would be easy to cancel a mission, to shut down an
operation, to build tremendous walls and fortress ourselves overseas
and not interact with the people we're there to help or to curtail a
very important operational function that protects our interest in a
"If we do that, then we will have conceded the battlefield to the
terrorist. The trick is to be able to accomplish your mission and
within as much reasonable risk as you can take still protect the
force. If you build the ideal fortress over there, you probably will
not be able to carry out the mission."
Most of Central Command's 1,200 security assistance people, for
example, work in high-threat areas, Zinni said. They have to travel
and interact with local military and civilian officials. "All that
puts them at risk. We try to minimize that risk, but we can never
It's up to field commanders to take all reasonable measures to
protect their forces, Zinni said. He said the military must avoid
creating a "zero defects" mentality, using 20-20 hindsight to evaluate
commanders' decisions. "I want to be sure commanders who make
reasonably good judgments, who are still able to execute their
missions, have my backing and my support."
Since force protection needs vary, Zinni said, he opposes
dictating prescribed standards. "I have no problem with submitting my
standards for approval or concurrence up the line, but you cannot have
one standard that's going to fit everybody," he said. "You cannot in
some places even afford the kinds of physical security measures that
would be [needed] worldwide.
"I have served in Korea. I have served in the European Command.
I'm trying to imagine someone putting in a 1,200-foot standoff in a
place like Yongsan or at some kaserne in Heidelberg. You can't do it.
The host nation wouldn't let you do it. The expense would be too
great. We have to be reasonable about this. There will be risk."
U.S. forces have been and are being targeted, he said. U.S.
officials have thwarted some attacks, he said. Commanders must include
this threat in their risk equation, Zinni said.
"The fact that we have had no incidents in over a year is not
because there aren't people out there to get us -- or looking for the
opportunity -- it's because so far, thank God, we have done the right
things to be able to protect ourselves," he said. "More importantly,
we have done all those right things and never lost a beat in our
mission, in the demonstration of our resolve to our allies, and in the
commitment we have to our national interests."