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Report Clears General In Bombing Commander At Saudi Base Acted In ‘Reasonable And Prudent Fashion’

Thu., Dec. 12, 1996

The Air Force general in charge of the base in Saudi Arabia where 19 airmen were killed in June has been cleared of culpability in the terrorist bombing, a senior Pentagon official said Wednesday.

The finding on Brig. Gen. Terryl J. Schwalier is contained in a report issued by Lt. Gen. James Record, who was given the authority to decide whether Schwalier should be disciplined or face court-martial proceedings, said an official with knowledge of the report.

Defense Secretary William Perry ordered the probe in September, following the release of a report by retired Army special forces Gen. Wayne Downing that criticized Schwalier for failing to take action to protect his troops.

Nineteen airmen under Schwalier’s command died in a truck bombing that tore open an eight-story apartment building in the Khobar Towers complex in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia.

Record “looked for culpability and found none,” said the senior official, who spoke on condition he not be identified by name.

Record also determined that Schwalier “had acted in a responsible and prudent fashion,” and because of that, there should be no punishments, reprimands or other form of military discipline meted out, the official said.

Explaining Record’s reasoning, the official said, “If the circumstances had pointed to a failure of leadership, that would have been one thing. But he wouldn’t hold somebody up as a scapegoat just to have a scapegoat.”

The official added that Record looked up and down the chain of command for “dereliction of duty,” and found none, ranging from the most senior commander - Gen. H. Binford Peay, the Central Command four-star general - to the military police who guarded the compound.

Record’s finding is to be relayed to Gen. Ronald Fogleman, the chief of staff of the Air Force, and Air Force Secretary Shiela Widnall. Few expect it to be overturned by top Air Force officials.

The Record finding is in sharp contrast to Downing’s report, which stated that Schwalier “did not adequately protect his forces from a terrorist attack.”

Downing found that Schwalier had not raised with his Saudi counterparts the problem of extending the perimeter of the apartment complex, despite intelligence warnings that a bomb could be placed against an outside fence.

The Downing report sparked sharp divisions and debate inside the Pentagon. The report by the retired Army general was thought to reflect the deeply-imbedded “culture” of ground forces, which put a high priority on troop protection.

Air Force officials have defended Schwalier, pointing out that security outside the base was the responsibility of the Saudis and that the intelligence warnings the general received were not clear-cut.

Downing found that Schwalier fulfilled his main task - to launch U.S. aircraft from four countries into the so-called no-fly zone in southern Iraq - very well. And to the extent Schwalier focused on security, he worked to prevent terrorist bombers from getting inside the perimeter of the apartment complex.

Schwalier wasn’t the only official criticized in the Downing report. It said the Pentagon failed to issue directives laying out base security guidelines for protecting forces deployed in buildings.

As well, Downing said, the headquarters responsible for the Persian Gulf region - the U.S. Central Command - tolerated a confused chain of command that muddied the responsibility for security of forces in the field.

Schwalier is a 27-year veteran who graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1969.


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