FOR FORCE PROTECTION AT KHOBAR TOWERS
SECRETARY OF DEFENSE
WILLIAM S. COHEN
JULY 31, 1997
The threat of terrorism is not new to the United States military. Nor is the requirement for force protection new; force protection has always been an implied mission in all that our commanders do.
As we continue to deploy forces around the globe to accomplish new and varied missions, we place increasing demands on our commanders to perform these missions while also protecting their troops from acts of terrorism. The Khobar Towers bombing confirmed this challenge and accelerated the Departments efforts to improve force protection worldwide. These efforts are, and must be, geared to deterring terrorists from attacking our forces and to minimizing casualties should an attack occur. While we had taken many steps before the Khobar Towers bombing to enhance force protection, the Department learned many lessons in the aftermath of the attack, and has implemented a host of measures in response.
But it is not enough merely to learn and move forward. We must ask whether the lessons learned in the aftermath of the Khobar Towers tragedy were matters that should have been anticipated and addressed before the attack. This question requires a critical assessment of the roles key members in the chain of command played in developing the force protection measures in place at Khobar Towers at the time of the attack.
Any discussion of the Khobar Towers attack must start with the November 1995 car bombing of the Office of the Program Manager, Saudi Arabia National Guard (OPM SANG) in Riyadh. The bomb used in that attack, containing some 250 pounds of explosives, had exploded in a parking lot next to a building where American military forces trained Saudi military personnel. Seven people were killed, including five Americans, and 35 others were injured. This was a watershed event in Saudi Arabia, which had previously known little terrorist activity. Following the OPM SANG bombing, intelligence indicated that terrorists were continuing to target U.S. forces in Saudi Arabia, particularly in the Eastern Province, where Dhahran and the Khobar Towers housing complex are located. In light of this intelligence, USCINCCENT declared a "high" threat level in the entire country.
The King Abdul Aziz Air Base, located one kilometer west of Khobar Towers, is the site from which coalition aircraft conduct Operation Southern Watch, which enforces the no-fly zone in Southern Iraq. At the time of the bombing, U.S. forces operating from that base were housed at Khobar Towers, a high-rise building complex in a densely populated urban environment. A vulnerability assessment performed at Khobar Towers after the OPM SANG bombing concluded that among the most serious threats to Khobar was a vehicle bomb that either penetrated the compound or was detonated at the perimeter. In the wake of the increased threat level and the vulnerability assessment, Brigadier General Terryl Schwalier, commander of the 4404th Wing (Provisional) that included the U.S. forces at Khobar, instituted a number of significant improvements in force protection designed to tighten security and counter the anticipated terrorist threat.
Shortly before 10:00 p.m. on June 25, 1996, three sentries posted on the roof of building 131 at Khobar Towers saw two men park a fuel truck at the edge of a nearby parking lot, about eighty feet from the base of their building, and then speed away in a car. Recognizing the possibility of a truck-bomb, the sentries reported the threat to the Central Security Control (CSC) and then initiated an evacuation of the building, knocking on doors and orally alerting personnel to the danger. In about four minutes, the sentries were able to alert only the top three floors of the eight-story dormitory. Meanwhile, the CSC attempted to contact the Wing Operations Center to activate "Giant Voice," a base-wide loudspeaker and siren system, to sound an alert.
Before Giant Voice could be activated, however, the truck-bomb exploded, causing a partial collapse of building 131 and lesser damage to nearby buildings. Nineteen American service members were killed in the blast, all but one of whom resided in building 131. Hundreds of other service members and Saudis were injured, mostly by flying glass from windows shattered throughout the compound. Fortunately, most of the personnel who were evacuating from the top floors of building 131 were caught in the interior stairwells when the bomb went off, which in retrospect may have saved them from serious injury.
There is no doubt that the extent of the casualties at Khobar Towers resulted, in part, from the extraordinary size of the terrorist bomb. Reports initially estimated that the bomb contained the equivalent of 3,000 to 8,000 pounds of TNT, but a study by the Defense Special Weapons Agency concluded that the power of the bomb was actually closer to 20,000 pounds of TNT. Although there had been one uncorroborated report that a large amount of C-4 explosive had been smuggled into Saudi Arabia, no one -- either in Saudi Arabia or in the U.S. -- had anticipated the possibility of an attack of this magnitude. The 250-pound OPM SANG bomb had been the largest terrorist bomb deployed in Saudi Arabia up to that time and had served as a baseline for counter-terrorism efforts in that country.
B. Investigative Efforts
Immediately after the tragedy at Khobar Towers, Secretary Perry appointed General Wayne A. Downing (USA, Ret.) to assess the adequacy of force protection on the Arabian Peninsula, and specifically at Khobar Towers. General Downing conducted an expedited investigation and delivered his report to the Secretary on August 30, 1996.
General Downing concluded that there were serious deficiencies in force protection at Khobar Towers and other CENTCOM facilities and made recommendations for improved force protection worldwide. As discussed in Secretary Perrys September 16, 1996 report to the President, the Department has adopted virtually all of General Downing's recommendations.
The Downing report also addressed issues of personal accountability and concluded (1) that Brig Gen Schwalier did not adequately protect the forces at Khobar Towers from a terrorist attack, and (2) that the chain of command did not provide adequate guidance and support to General Schwalier. Secretary Perry referred these issues to the Secretary of the Air Force with instructions to consider them and take appropriate action. The Secretary and Chief of Staff of the Air Force subsequently named Lieutenant General James F. Record to be the disciplinary review authority and General Court-Martial Convening Authority with jurisdiction over any actions or omissions by Air Force personnel associated with the bombing of Khobar Towers.
The Air Force delivered General Record's report on accountability issues to the Deputy Secretary of Defense in December 1996. His report concluded that no one was guilty of a criminal offense or merited any administrative sanction. While the report persuasively resolved criminal issues, Deputy Secretary White, with the concurrence of the Secretary and Chief of Staff of the Air Force, concluded that certain other issues were not adequately dealt with in the report. In particular, the report had not thoroughly discussed the question of whether administrative sanctions were appropriate, and it lacked sufficient detail about certain factual issues, including the preparedness of the 4404th Wing to protect itself against a terrorist attack involving a bomb at the perimeter of Khobar Towers. The Air Force accordingly tasked its Inspector General, Lieutenant General Richard T. Swope, and Judge Advocate General, Major General Bryan G. Hawley, to perform additional work to supplement the Record report. In April 1997, Deputy Secretary White received the report of Generals Swope and Hawley. As did the Record report, their report concluded that no one should be sanctioned administratively as a result of the Khobar Towers bomb attack.
I have now personally reviewed all three reports, as well as some of the underlying evidence, and have reached my own conclusions about the difficult issues of personal accountability for force protection at Khobar Towers. In my view, the Air Force reports do not reflect a thorough, critical analysis of all of the facts and issues, nor, in many instances, do they arrive at conclusions fully supported by the facts. On the other hand, in the course of my review, it also became apparent that several conclusions reached by the Downing Assessment Team during its expedited review are overstated.
C. Standards for Command Accountability
In judging the performance of a military commander, we must remember that commanders have myriad responsibilities and tasks for which they are accountable. We cannot expect perfection from them in meeting these responsibilities and accomplishing these tasks. The demands upon their time, intellect, and energy are too numerous and too varied to justify an expectation of perfection. Nor can commanders be asked to meet a standard of zero defects. Service in our armed forces is inherently dangerous, not only in time of war, but also in time of peace. This is even more true today, as we send our forces on missions that blur the traditional distinctions between war and peace. Even the most skilled officer may suffer the death or injury of members of his or her command when events that could not reasonably have been anticipated or guarded against befall that command.
Nonetheless, we can and do expect a high standard of performance from our commanders in the field, who are entrusted with the safety of our troops. A general officer must demonstrate judgment, awareness, and resourcefulness well beyond that expected of more junior, less seasoned officers. Such an officer should, moreover, display insight capable of deep and broad assessment of all the varied threats arrayed against his command. This includes understanding his commands vulnerabilities and thoughtfully assessing both the adequacy of measures taken to address those vulnerabilities and the risks associated with not taking certain measures.
There can be no rigid template for determining a commanders accountability that can be mechanically applied to every factual scenario. Each commander faces different risks, has different resources with which to counter those risks, and confronts different constraints. Each commander is expected to assess the risks and to weigh carefully those steps that are within his or her authority, consistent with both budgetary and manning limitations and with other special constraints (such as those posed, in the case of Khobar Towers, by its particular international setting). When, in the commanders judgment, the various limitations and constraints he or she is facing leave the command with an unacceptable level of risk, that commander should raise those issues to higher levels in the chain of command.
More senior commanders have an affirmative responsibility to oversee and assess the activities of their subordinates and to support their requirements. Although they cannot be expected to be as familiar with day-to-day concerns as their subordinates, they must actively assist their field commanders in handling the complex issues that inevitably confront them in protecting their forces from harm. Senior leaders must also take steps to become aware of the significant issues that their field commanders are addressing at any given time, and of the actions taken to resolve those issues. Unless their supervisory efforts reveal problems, however, more senior commanders may reasonably rely on their subordinate commanders representations that things are well in hand and may reasonably expect their subordinate commanders to request assistance as needed.
D. Assessment of Force Protection Measures at Khobar Towers
Defending the Khobar Towers compound in its urban environment was a particularly difficult task. The compound was close to Saudi homes, businesses, parks, and places of worship. Terrorists could strike our forces at Khobar without warning, in many different ways, and from many directions. As I have noted above, there was strategic intelligence indicating an escalation in terrorist activity targeted at U.S. forces in eastern Saudi Arabia and identifying Khobar Towers as a potential terrorist target. As reported by General Downing, however, "[t]here was no intelligence from any source which warned specifically of the nature, timing, and magnitude of the June 25, 1996 attack on Khobar Towers." Although Wing leaders realized that terrorists were capable of building a bomb bigger than that used at OPM SANG, they did not anticipate a bomb as large as the one that was ultimately deployed.
In January 1996, the Air Force Office of Special Investigations (AFOSI) completed a vulnerability assessment of Khobar Towers in light of available intelligence, which was shared with the 4404th Wing, including Brig Gen Schwalier. That assessment identified various threats to Khobar Towers, including vehicle bombs that either penetrated the interior of the compound or were detonated on the compound's perimeter. This assessment also identified a significant vulnerability of the compound: the close proximity of a public parking lot 80 feet north of dormitories 131 and 133, where the June attack ultimately occurred.
In response to the vulnerability assessment, the Wing command promptly implemented thirty-six of the vulnerability assessment's thirty-nine recommendations, and two more were planned for the future. The implemented measures included repairing the perimeter fence, stringing concertina wire along the fence, creating specially-designed serpentine access routes defended by armed security police (with a 2-1/2 ton truck prepared to block oncoming vehicles), surrounding the compound with double rows of concrete jersey barriers and placing dumpsters at key locations, building M-60 machine gun emplacements at the main gate, posting roof-top sentries on many of the dormitories, increasing Saudi patrols inside and outside the compound, trimming vegetation along the perimeter, and tightening identification checks at the main gate. Brig Gen Schwalier's efforts to prevent a bomb from entering the compound may well have deterred the bombers from attempting a penetration attack, which could have resulted in a greater number of casualties.
Nonetheless, Brig Gen Schwalier could and should have done more to prepare the 4404th to respond to a perimeter bomb. He and his staff recognized that there was a serious risk of a perimeter or "stand-off" bomb attack. Although they anticipated that such a bomb would likely be comparable in size to the one used at OPM SANG, they knew that they could not discount the possibility that terrorists could use a bigger bomb. Regardless of the anticipated size of the bomb, however, they had to take reasonable measures to protect their troops from harm if a stand-off bomb attack occurred. Their planned response to such an attack consisted of having roof-top sentries detect the threat and then seek promptly to evacuate affected personnel. It is evident that this plan could only work if an alarm could be sounded quickly, safe havens could be rapidly identified, and personnel could be moved swiftly to those safe havens.
Accordingly, Wing leaders were obliged to have a thorough plan for protecting personnel in the event a perimeter attack materialized. They had to consider how personnel in danger would be alerted to the threat, whether the alert would be timely and effective, whether and how to distinguish among the different types of threats in alerting personnel (e.g., mortar fire vs. perimeter bomb), and where personnel would be directed to go to protect them from harm. In addition, they also had to ensure that Wing personnel understood the evacuation plans and knew instinctively how and where to evacuate. This was a particular concern because the cadre of personnel at Khobar was constantly changing due to the short tours of duty: new personnel were arriving every week.
The testimony indicates, however, that the command did not develop an effective plan for how personnel would be alerted and removed from harm's way in the event a stand-off bomb attack occurred. The Wing's tools for alerting and safeguarding personnel consisted of (1) "Giant Voice," the base-wide loudspeaker and siren system; (2) a primitive evacuation method, which consisted of having personnel knock on individual doors of the dormitories and tell the occupants to evacuate and to alert others, starting on the top floors of the buildings and working downward; (3) notices posted on the backs of suite doors providing information to dormitory residents on how and where to evacuate in a crisis; and (4) other notices directing building residents to take cover in the interior of their suites in the event of an enemy attack. Even for a perimeter bomb attack comparable in size to that at OPM SANG, this patchwork emergency response program would have been unsatisfactory in many respects.
First, because of problems with the Giant Voice system and the procedures for its use, that system was of little value in a terrorist attack. This system was originally used as an alarm for SCUD missile attacks during the Gulf War, warning base personnel to take cover inside their suites. But many Wing personnel, including Brig Gen Schwalier, identified Giant Voice as one of the means of alerting personnel to the need to evacuate their suites in response to bomb threats. Thus it was not clear whether in any given case this system -- either in voice mode or in siren mode -- was to be used as a "take cover" warning or an evacuation warning. There were no clear procedures identifying the emergencies for which Giant Voice would be activated, and no procedures governing when to use the voice mode and when to use the siren mode.
In any event, the voice mode of Giant Voice was reportedly incomprehensible to personnel located indoors. As some Wing personnel testified, voice announcements would only draw personnel to their windows to try to make out what the loudspeaker was saying, thus potentially exposing personnel to greater risk of injury. The siren component of Giant Voice had not been tested since 1994, despite the high state of alert, in deference to the wishes of local authorities. Accordingly, Wing leaders could not be confident of its effectiveness in an emergency.
Furthermore, the procedures for activating either the voice or the siren component of Giant Voice were too cumbersome and slow. To activate the system, it was necessary (1) for the observation post to request the Central Security Control (CSC) to activate the system, (2) for CSC to pass the request to the Wing Operations Center (WOC), (3) for WOC to pass the request to the Wing commander, and (4) for the Wing commander to give permission, upon which WOC could then activate the system. As Brig Gen Schwalier and his Support Group Commander testified, on the evening of the bomb attack, Wing personnel were still seeking permission to activate the system when the bomb went off.
Second, knocking on doors and using word-of-mouth was an unsatisfactory method of alerting personnel to terrorist threats in the high threat environment that existed in Dhahran. This primitive method of alert simply could not provide a timely warning in response to a bomb attack or other emergency. It was not a substitute for an automated mass notification system. Wing leaders had decided not to install fire alarms in the dormitories, contrary to the recommendation of the January 1996 vulnerability assessment, because the buildings at Khobar Towers were not constructed of combustible materials and there were very few flammable items in them. Even if the risk of fire was minimal, however, this did not obviate the need for an effective automated alarm system to alert Wing personnel to terrorist threats. On the evening of the bomb attack, the roof-top sentries immediately recognized the threat as planned; however, during the four minutes available to alert personnel to the danger, the sentries had no expeditious means to do so.
Third, the procedures and plans concerning where and how Wing personnel should seek safety once alerted to a danger were deficient. Although the Wing had reviewed and updated its evacuation plans in April 1996, and had posted notices in the dormitories as to how to evacuate to the outside of the buildings in an emergency, the Wing had not published guidance on what to do in the event of a stand-off bomb attack, i.e., whether to evacuate the building or to take cover in its interior. Therefore, on the night of the bombing, Wing personnel did not know where to go to maximize their safety. It was only by good fortune that many personnel who were evacuating building 131 were still in the interior stairwells when the bomb went off and therefore received some protection from the effects of the blast. Both Air Force reports point out that evacuation of personnel to the exterior of a building is not necessarily the safest course when faced with an imminent stand-off attack or other emergencies. The established response to SCUD attacks, for example, was for personnel to take cover in the interior of a building, not to evacuate.
The testimony indicates, moreover, that for the most part personnel at Khobar Towers were not at all conversant with the evacuation/"take cover" procedures that were in place: many Wing personnel testified that they were unaware of any procedures for how to respond in the event of terrorist incidents, or that the only procedure they knew was to knock on doors and get people out. While the Swope/Hawley report indicated that there was a systematic and organized evacuation method in place at Khobar Towers known as the "waterfall" method, Wing personnel who testified in the investigations generally made no reference to such a method. Some personnel were aware of notices posted on doors and said they knew where to go in the event of an evacuation to the exterior of a building. A smaller number mentioned the "take cover" response. Virtually no one, however, testified that Khobar Towers had established an emergency response system calling for different reactions depending on the nature of the threat.
Fourth, evacuation drills had never been practiced at Khobar Towers. As the Swope/Hawley report recognizes (at p.76), "[t]he Wing was required to practice emergency response procedures but did not do so. Although the Wing had a number of real-life evacuations from November 1995 to May 1996 [in response to suspicious packages], these real-life evacuations were an inadequate substitute for exercises." In the absence of timed and regular drills, Wing leaders could neither assess the speed and efficacy of their evacuation methods nor ensure the familiarity of all of their personnel with those methods. They could not know whether security police would detect a potential stand-off bomb promptly, how they would react if they did, how long it would take them to alert those in danger, whether personnel once alerted would evacuate or take cover to avoid the danger, and how long it would take them to do so. Similarly, they could not assess the effectiveness of the Giant Voice system and the procedures for activating it without actually using the system in a simulated emergency scenario.
The ad hoc nature of the alarm systems and evacuation planning and training at Khobar Towers is illustrated by the testimony of a staff sergeant who, by happenstance, was overseeing the sentries on the roof of building 131 at the time of the bomb attack. This sergeant decided, on his own initiative, to begin an evacuation of the building in response to the threat posed by the truck bomb. His good judgment and prompt action unquestionably saved lives. But his commendable performance is not a substitute for thorough emergency planning and training. He had never been told whether knocking on doors and evacuating was the right procedure for building 131, nor had he been told that initiating evacuations was part of the responsibilities of roof-top sentries. He had never participated in any practice evacuations at Khobar Towers, he had never heard Giant Voice before the bombing, and he was not aware that Giant Voice was available for a truck-bomb threat. Moreover, he had apparently not been instructed on whether residents should take cover inside or evacuate to the outside in the event of a stand-off bomb attack.
We cannot know whether a better alarm system and better evacuation/"take cover" procedures and drills would have saved lives on the night of the bombing. Had timed and regular drills been conducted, however, Wing leaders might have determined that the alarm and evacuation systems at Khobar Towers were too slow or otherwise inadequate, or that personnel did not understand the response procedures. Although Brig Gen Schwalier and his Support Group Commander believed that the eight-story dormitories at Khobar Towers could be evacuated in five minutes, the Swope/Hawley report concluded (at p.75) that "[e]vidence indicates prior evacuations of buildings in Khobar Towers complex were completed in 10-15 minutes. This is consistent with time it took to evacuate the first three floors the night of the bombing." Timed drills would have provided Wing leaders with a more accurate assessment of how long it would take to evacuate a dormitory by knocking on individual room doors, and thus perhaps an indication that this rudimentary method of alert was inadequate.
Of course, even with the best alarms and evacuation procedures and training in place, there would not have been much time to respond to the threat on the night of June 25. The security police did in fact respond heroically that night, both in recognizing the danger and attempting to alert as many people as possible. There is also no dispute that Brig Gen Schwalier made great strides in enhancing the force protection measures of his command. Brig Gen Schwalier also unquestionably carried out with distinction his primary mission under Operation Southern Watch of enforcing the no-fly zone in Southern Iraq. Nonetheless, given the incomplete preparation of the 4404th Wing to defend against the serious threat of a perimeter attack -- a risk that Brig Gen Schwalier himself recognized -- I have concluded that Brig Gen Schwalier did not exhibit that degree of judgment, awareness, and resourcefulness that I would expect in an officer that I would support for promotion to Major General.
It is also important in reviewing Brig Gen Schwalier's overall performance to say a few words about force protection issues that have received considerable public attention, but which played a smaller role in my decision. There has been public discussion of the failure of the 4404th Wing to extend the fence line on the vulnerable northern perimeter of the Khobar Towers compound, in order to achieve a greater separation between the northern parking lot and buildings 131 and 133. Brig Gen Schwalier's subordinates did ask local authorities to extend this perimeter somewhat, but their efforts were unsuccessful. Brig Gen Schwalier did not follow up these efforts by raising the perimeter issue with his Saudi counterparts. Nor did he raise the issue with his chain of command.
While Brig Gen Schwalier's judgment can be questioned for not pursuing this issue more aggressively, it is doubtful that Saudi officials would have approved the extension of the perimeter to a distance which would have protected Khobar Towers against a 20,000 pound bomb, although they did so after the bombing. In any event, because Brig Gen Schwalier did not elevate this issue, we cannot say for certain how it would have been dealt with by senior Saudi officials or by Brig Gen Schwalier's superiors.
Another issue that has received public attention is the failure of the 4404th to install Mylar (a protective coating designed to prevent shattering of glass) on the windows of the dormitories. The January 1996 vulnerability assessment for Khobar Towers recommended installation of Mylar. Based on the projected cost of installing Mylar, his assessment of the threat, and the other force protection measures he had taken (including approval of black-out curtains for the windows), Brig Gen Schwalier decided to postpone the installation of Mylar and to include it in his five year budget instead.
Brig Gen Schwalier's judgment can be faulted for postponing the installation of Mylar. For the OPM SANG-size bomb that was anticipated, Mylar offered protection from perhaps the most significant hazard of a perimeter attack: flying glass from shattered windows. For the much larger bomb that was in fact used by the terrorists, Mylar might have prevented some of the injuries that were caused by flying glass in buildings throughout the Khobar Towers compound. Although Brig Gen Schwalier testified that cost was a factor in his decision to postpone this measure, he had never been denied funding for force protection measures in the past.
It is true that Mylar would not have prevented the majority of the fatalities at Khobar Towers, however, which were caused by blunt force trauma suffered in the partial collapse of building 131. Moreover, it is not clear that Mylar, which was first recommended in January, could have been properly installed at Khobar Towers by June. Nonetheless, Brig Gen Schwaliers decision to defer the installation of Mylar is further evidence that he did not give sufficient consideration to how he would minimize the risk of injury to his forces in the event of a bomb attack.
General Downing has also faulted the Wing leadership for having allegedly rejected an express recommendation to relocate the personnel housed in the two buildings closest to the northern perimeter. In fact, however, there was no such recommendation. This option was never broached to or considered by Brig Gen Schwalier. In retrospect, relocating personnel -- which was a measure entirely within Brig Gen Schwalier's control -- might well have protected the occupants of the perimeter buildings from even a massive stand-off bomb in the north parking area. Given the difficulty of extending the perimeter, relocation might have provided one of the few effective ways of reducing the casualties from a perimeter bomb. Although relocating personnel from perimeter buildings could conceivably have exposed them to greater danger in the event of a different type of terrorist attack, such as a penetration bomb, Brig Gen Schwalier's judgment can be questioned for not considering this option, especially in light of his failure to implement alternative measures to protect against a perimeter attack.
E. The Accountability of The Chain of Command
The chain of command shares in the responsibility for the safety of our troops. As Brig Gen Schwalier recognized, however, force protection at any installation is first and foremost the responsibility of the installation's commander. Contrary to suggestions in the Downing report, a number of Brig Gen Schwalier's superiors visited the installation one or more times to review its security and discussed force protection issues at length with Brig Gen Schwalier. USCENTCOM also established a force protection board as a link between the component commanders and the field on force protection matters. However, Brig Gen Schwalier never referred any force protection problems up his chain of command.
The particular deficiencies that I have identified with respect to force protection at Khobar Towers are, by their very nature, precisely the kinds of issues that must be dealt with by the commander in the field. Brig Gen Schwalier's superiors in the chain of command, who were in most instances located thousands of miles from Saudi Arabia, could not have been expected to second-guess the local commander's decisions on issues of this sort. Ultimately, as the on-scene commander, the responsibility was his. If he believed that he needed additional assistance to implement additional force protection measures, he could have requested it from his superiors in the chain of command. He did not do so.
Other issues that were raised by General Downing's report with respect to the chain of command included the somewhat confusing command relationships, the fact that most of the service members in Saudi Arabia were on short, 90-day tours, and the lack of theater-wide force protection standards and training. Although some of these criticisms may be legitimate, and we have made changes in our force protection efforts that address these issues, they do not appear to have been causally related to the bomb attack or to the casualties that resulted from the attack. With respect to the command relationships, while General Downing concluded that command structures led to confusion with respect to commanders responsibilities for force protection, the testimony of the relevant commanders is to the contrary. Brig Gen Schwalier testified repeatedly that he understood that he had responsibility for force protection at Khobar Towers and that the structure of the chain of command did not affect his abilities to carry out that responsibility. General J. H. Binford Peay III, Commander-in-Chief, USCENTCOM, kept Brig Gen Schwalier apprised of the strategic environment and made force protection a priority issue in the command. Subordinate commanders in turn made it a corresponding priority and consulted with Brig Gen Schwalier on force protection issues.
This does not mean that the chain of command should be satisfied that they did all that they could have done to support Brig Gen Schwalier's force protection efforts. A tragedy such as the Khobar Towers bombing necessarily reflects on more than one man. Our commanders in the field must be able to count on support from their chain of command to enhance their ability to succeed in the difficult missions with which they are entrusted. In the aftermath of the bombing, we have made important institutional changes to make certain that, in the future, our senior military leaders will play a much more proactive role in counterterrorism and force protection matters. Particularly with the non-traditional missions that our forces are increasingly asked to perform in the post-Cold War environment, countering the threat posed by terrorism to our forces abroad must be among the top priorities of our senior leadership.
Our forces, regardless of location, are potential targets of terrorists and others who seek to use unconventional means to offset their lack of numbers, sophistication of weaponry, or courage to meet us on the field of battle. All of our military leaders should constantly question whether enough has been done to ensure that the forces in their charge are protected. We unfortunately cannot guarantee that there will be no new terrorist attacks on our forces. But with the heightened attention to these issues and greater involvement of the entire chain of command, we can reduce the risk of another tragedy like that at Khobar Towers.
In light of the above analysis, I have concluded that there were lapses with respect to force protection at Khobar Towers for which Brig Gen Schwalier must be held accountable. Accordingly, I have recommended to the President that his name be removed from the list of those to be appointed to the grade of Major General. I have also concluded that no adverse action should be taken against those senior to him in the chain of command. While the entire chain of command must shoulder the responsibility for the safety of our troops, in this instance, the failings that I perceive in force protection at Khobar Towers lie primarily with the commander in the field.
We must not ignore the ultimate truth about the Khobar Towers tragedy: a determined and resourceful adversary, armed with a massive amount of explosives and given a setting that made surveillance easy and defense challenging, exploited one of the few, but patent, vulnerabilities of a highly fortified compound. In the period leading up to the attack, the compound's force protection posture was significantly enhanced. Nevertheless, vulnerabilities that had been identified in the months before the attack remained exposed at the time the terrorists acted. The commander, who had been made aware of these vulnerabilities, failed to take actions within his authority to address them. Given his range of authority, Brig Gen Schwalier may not have been able to eliminate the vulnerability of the compounds northern perimeter, but he could certainly have minimized the damage that would ensue if the terrorists sought to exploit it. He failed to prepare a rigorous plan for his command to respond to this threat.
Accountability in this instance relates to basic force protection issues, the resolution of which was within this commanders authority. In the final analysis, the commander on the scene is responsible for the safety of his or her personnel. This principle has served us well in the past and will continue to do so in the future.
Index || Executive Summary || Appendix