Khobar Towers Bombing

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After the Riyadh car bombing in November 1995, military commanders at Khobar raised their threat level but failed to take all precautions recommended by AFOSI and USCENTCOM. The Interesting Info about Khobar Towers Bombing.

Schwalier was widely criticized for not conducting evacuation drills. Yet residents in her complex had experienced multiple evacuations caused by suspicious package alerts.

Background

Khobar Towers was a complex of high-rise apartment buildings that served as a home base for coalition forces enforcing a no-fly zone over southern Iraq after the Persian Gulf War. Patrick Air Force Base’s 58th Fighter Squadron lived in Building 131 alongside members from other U.S. Air Force units and British and French military personnel.

U.S. Air Force officials knew that terrorists could breach security perimeters and attack U.S. troops living there, with threats coming from inside or outside the building. On Jun. 25, an attack using a truck packed with hundreds of pounds of explosives killed 19 Americans and injured over 370 more – the bombing resulted from this kind of external terrorist threat.

After the explosion, many critics charged that Schwalier and his staff failed to take every precaution to make their workplace as secure as possible – an allegation repeated throughout the Downing report critiqued Air Force responses to tragedy.

Events at Khobar Towers before the bombing reveal another picture: an AFOSI vulnerability assessment conducted in January 1996 made 39 recommendations, and all but two were implemented, such as Mylar window film coating installation and fire alarm system integration (both were scheduled into Schwalier’s five-year facilities improvement plan).

Residents of high-rise apartments surveyed their surroundings from behind a fence and parking lot divider, looking out onto city streets, private homes, and a dusty median that divided the American part from another set of buildings in the Dhahran complex. A few buildings lined the north end of the American area, facing rows of slim concrete towers separating Dhahran city.

Preparation

The Jun. 25, 1996, terrorist truck bombing claimed 19 servicemembers’ lives and severely injured many others, leaving many seriously wounded. The attackers used massive explosives outside American-held portions of the Khobar Towers complex – an apartment block. The explosion created a huge fireball, completely demolishing an eight-story building housing coalition forces enforcing southern no-fly zones after the Gulf War.

Testimonies and evidence compiled by AFOSI demonstrate that commanders of USAF units in high-threat air base defense environments consistently enhanced their Force Protection posture during the seven months before the Khobar Towers attack. Commanders reduced vulnerabilities within their installation boundaries, gained host nation patrols outside the base perimeter, and implemented substantial security enhancements.

USAF commanders in the field had great faith in their ability to protect against terrorist attacks. While they couldn’t expect to control every event in an unpredictable land, they knew terrorists possessed the capability and intent to attack.

After the November 1995 car bombing that resulted in six American and two Indian citizens being killed in Riyadh, USAF commanders raised Khobar’s threat level from THREATCON COMMUNITY to THREATCON DELTA and informed all personnel stationed there that anonymous communications indicated an attack would take place against Khobar Towers.

Brigadier General Schwalier of the 4404th Wing approved raising the threat condition and strengthening defenses at his facility. He implemented an AFOSI Vulnerability Assessment recommendation that coats windows with Mylar, an impact-resistant film coating that protects them from flying glass fragments.

Schwalier had other plans in mind to further strengthen the security of his facility. He requested his new head of security police consider ways to prevent car bombings and devise a method using barriers similar to those seen at airports in the United States but five feet further out. These barriers were then attached to concrete Jersey walls separating U.S. compounds from Khobar Towers developments while concertina wire was added along their top and bottom borders for protection.

Timeline

The bombing was an act of terror. It claimed 19 lives while injuring hundreds more – many Saudi nationals and third-country nationals as well as numerous U.S. service members, severely damaging or destroying many buildings, leaving behind a vast crater, killing or wounding countless Iraqi civilians, severely disrupting business at the base, and disrupting operations with ease.

As soon as the attack took place, changes were implemented by the Air Force. Brigadier General Schwalier ordered his 4404th Wing (Provisional), under his command, to focus on increasing security at the Khobar Towers compound and often visited to observe enhancements such as M-60 machine gun posts at the front gate entrance, rooftop sentries, and extensive entrance requirements.

Schwalier realized by mid-March that their most critical task would be preventing vehicle penetration of the compound. To do this, they required stopping and slowing any car that attempted to force its way through gates; to achieve this end goal, traffic patterns were reset and lengthened, road stars installed with tire shredders attached, as well as barriers and bunkers strategically positioned around its perimeter.

Schwalier asked Lt. Col. James Traister, head of Security Police for the American-occupied side of the compound, to consider carefully what must be done to stop animals from crossing 12th Street into the American-occupied sector of the mix. He indicamix sectoreing of prime importance.

He and his staff quickly altered the patrol schedule, increased the guards’ number, and installed concrete barriers around the perimeter. Furthermore, they convinced Saudi authorities to permit more rows of concertina wire at both ends of the fence; by the summer of 1996, 4404th Tower’s perimeter looked much like any U.S. military installation worldwide.

Conclusions

On Jun. 25, 1996, Air Force Senior Airman Denny Prier was watching a movie at the Khobar Towers complex in Dhahran when an explosion blew through their door with “tremendous force,” propelling him five or six feet across the room and striking him on his back before shattering windows and doors in nearby buildings. Following this event, Prier helped an injured woman downstairs for medical care before needing help after receiving lacerations to his arm, leg, and face from helping. He suffered leg and face cuts as a result.

On Jan. 8, 1997, the Air Force Office of Special Investigations released its semiannual report assessing security at Khobar Towers facility and potential vulnerabilities. They identified 39 action items ranging from radio security and parking arrangements to fence line layout.

Multiple actions focused on the potential threats posed by nearby apartment buildings that could serve as attack platforms, towers atop hills that offered ideal sniping positions, and only a fence separated the coalition area from Saudi Arabian buildings.

Given these facts, the Court concludes that plaintiffs have met their burden of showing by clear and convincing evidence that Iran and its agents were responsible for the 1996 bombing in Heiser I. Thus, it grants their request to consider Dr. Patrick Clawson’s expert opinion in Heiser I that Iran, MOIS, and IRGC were all to blame, with Saudi Hezbollah acting on their behalf in carrying out this attack.

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