DEFENDING AMERICA
David H. Hackworth
30 June 1996

OUR TROOPS WERE LEFT TO HANG OUT TO DIE

Once again flagged-draped caskets arrived at Dover Air Force base. Once again American families are shattered by the loss of their loved ones. Once again our nation is numbed by a terrorist attack. Once again our president is outraged by an atrocity and has vowed to get the "cowards who committed this murderous act."

And once again none of the brass hats are standing tall and taking responsibility or being held accountable for the death of 19 Americans and the wounding of over 400 from the latest terrorist attack in the Middle East.

Those involved with stars on their shoulders are again circling the wagons as they go into an It-Wasn't-My-Fault shuffle and pass the buck, claiming they took all the precautions necessary to defend the base against terrorism.

Florida-based General J. H. Peay, the top U.S. commander for Saudi Arabia, says the bomb was a big one and not part of "normal types of terrorism."

Pure spin! There's no such thing as a "normal" type terrorist operation. Terrorists aren't into following some neat military handbook.

Major General Kurt Anderson, commander of the Joint Task Force in Saudi Arabia, implied in a New York Times interview his hands were tied because our forces are in Saudi Arabia. He said "We do not own this country. We are here living on the facilities they have provided us. That sets up certain constraints that our security measures must operate within."

What a load of crap! U.S. commanders are responsible for the security of their soldiers wherever they are. Our forces were not there on R and R but rather, according to JCS Chairman General John Shalikasavilli, to provide "stability to the region."

Any leader worth his/her stripes or stars should have demanded our people be correctly secured or threatened to move them where they'd be adequately protected.

The airmen who died were billeted in a building no more than 30 yards from where the truck bomb exploded. Even a raw recruit would have realized a fanatic could have thrown a hand grenade that far.

Nor does it take a military genius to figure out some madmen might steal a big truck, fill it with explosives, park it by fence and so replicate the 1993 Marine Barracks bombing in Beirut that killed 241 U.S. servicemen. A terrorist bombing, incidentally, for which no one from the Commandant of the Marine Corps, General PX Kelly, right down to the force CO took the rap even though they personally knew beforehand the security stunk.

Air Force personnel who lived in the blasted building knew they were hanging out. It was common scuttlebutt they were billeted too close to the street and were at high threat to car bombs. Many joked about reducing their risks by sleeping in their offices.

Only last November, at another U.S. facility in Saudi Arabia, five Americans were killed and 60 wounded by a car bomb. Four terrorist were tried and had their heads shipped home in baskets.

After this hit, you'd think the brass would have gotten the word. Especially since this latest assault was not a surprise attack. In fact, the maniacs said months ago they'd even the score for their headless pals. Under the circumstances, the top guys should have personally checked out the billet, talked to the flyboys and found out what was worrying them.

General Peay did review the security plan. General Anderson did increase alertness and put lookouts on top of the buildings. But neither general set up a no man's land of at least 500 feet between the billets and potential bombers.

The guards on the roof saw the truck park and the goons run to a waiting car and zoom off. They tried to alert everyone, running down the stairs shouting to "get out of the building."

But surely in the Information age the warning system could be a little more sophisticated than what our forefathers used in the trenches of France when the Germans launched a gas attack!

Our commanders insist they did their duty. Try telling that to the families of the dead and the men and women who survived the bloodbath.

Unlike Beirut, those responsible should not be allowed to sidestep their accountability this time around.