Force Protection A Comparison
Subject Area - Strategic Issues
Proposal: Compare the Beirut Bombing of the Marine Barracks of 1983 with the Bombing Khobar Towers in Dharhan, Saudi Arabia in 1996. The purpose of the comparison is determined lessons learned about force protection between the two bombing incidents. The comparison examined the environment, mission, chain of command, and intelligence support.
a. Environment. The U.S. Multinational Force (USMNF) was sent in to a combat zone in Beirut, although it was assumed to be benevolent to U.S. forces. Similarly Dhahran was assumed to be a non hostile environment for the 4404 Wing. In both situations there were signs of an ever increasing non-conventional threat to U.S. forces. Each truck bombing was preceded by events that presented evidence of increased hostilities. The environment turned hostile but no one recognized the change.
b. Mission. The goal of what the two units were designed to accomplish was similar. Both were required to participate in peacekeeping type missions. However, the USMNF was deployed to a war zone during a period of temporary cessation of hostilities. Their mission statement did not accurately reflect the purpose of their presence. In contrast, the 4404 Wing received a clearly defined mission. The mission comparison shows no parallel.
c. Chain of Command. In both instances the chain of command did not support deployed forces. Confusion generated by multiple and ambiguous lines of vertical command diluted responsibility for support and force protection. Since those in the chain of command did not feel responsible, they did not seek clarification of mission, rules of engagement, or improved intelligence support.
d. Intelligence. Timely, accurate and focused intelligence information was lacking in both situations. The 4404 Wing was not granted access to pertinent intelligence information due to classification restrictions. Nor were its organic staff sections adequately staffed to perform the essential duties required. The USMNF suffered from a large volume of unfocused information. Neither unit had the benefit of Human Intelligence (HUMINT).
a. The poorly defined chain of command was evident in both situations. This is surprising considering the passage of the Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986. This was supposed to have aided combatant CINCs by providing the authority and responsibility to organize, support, and command organizations under their command. The chain of command had the responsibility to change the mission, rules of engagement, and improve intelligence support. But the chain of command problems experienced in Beirut were repeated at Dhahran.
b. The requirement to provide good intelligence support was overlooked in both Beirut and Dhahran. Good intelligence support should have included: the availability of good HUMINT; focused information for the region of deployment; and access to information utilized only at the highest levels of command. Commanders must receive timely intelligence, focused on the units immediate and non-conventional threat, and trained staff personnel to receive and process information. Intelligence information was uncoordinated and was overlooked as the key to knowing the most imminent threat.
FORCE PROTECTION: A COMPARISON
On the 23rd of October 1983 a Mercedes truck filled with
explosive penetrated the defensive perimeter of a U.S. Marine
Peacekeeping Unit. The vehicle came to a halt in the lobby of a
building housing military personnel. Within seconds of stopping
the driver detonated a bomb which killed 241 military personnel.
It was an act of terrorism and of war which shocked the United
States and delivered a great insult upon a proud institution:
The U. S. Marine Corps. Specific events, perceptions of senior
leadership, and misguided goodwill led to the disaster.
Certainly such a tragedy would teach a powerful nation a lesson
regarding the projection of military force and its limitations.
Why would any country allow such a disaster to reoccur?
On the 25 of June 1996 a truck filled with explosives backed
into the fence line outside the housing area of a U. S. Air Force
Unit in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. The occupants of the truck
quickly fled the area and shortly there after the truck exploded.
The blast destroyed building #131 housing U.S. military
personnel. The building, one of the Khobar Towers, was severely
damaged killing 19 and wounding 500. Almost 12 years after
Beirut an act of terrorism struck a second time. Did the
United States not learn a lesson the first time?
There were smaller incidents before each attack that should
have awakened the U.S. to foresee these disastrous events and
prevent them. It is important to compare the Beirut bombing of
1983 and the 1996 bombing of Khobar Towers in Dhahran, Saudi
Arabia. An examination of the mission, the chain of command,
tactical environment, and intelligence support, will provide some
insight on why impending disaster was imminent.
BEIRUT: ENVIRONMENT AND MISSION
Lebanon is a country beset with problems at all social,
political, and religious levels. It is a country affected by
almost all unresolved disputes regarding the inhabitants of the
Middle East. The country has been turned into a battleground by
armed factions which manipulate and in turn are manipulated by
forces of foreign countries surrounding them. Syrians, Iranians,
Israelis, and Palestinians all may choose to fight each other in
Lebanon. This is a place where terrorist have a place to live,
train, and plan their next attack.
The majority of citizens can not be united with a sense of
national identity. Sunni Muslims, Marinite Christians, Greek
Orthodox Christians, Druze, and Shiite Muslim will all provide a
different definition of what it means to be Lebanese. Government
leadership is split among the factions. If one factions ascends
to a powerful position, the other factions unite to limit the
potential influence. Whatever occurs at the national level, does
not in any way control the political activities at the local
level. Local leaders obtain their power from clan relationships
as well as religious organizations. The central government is
never allowed to make inroads in these local organization. If
local powers disagree on issues and fight each other, the
government simply comes to a halt.
In June of 1982, the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) invaded
southern Lebanon, primarily to rid the area of the Palestine
Liberation Organization (PLO). By July of 1982 the IDF had
surrounded Beirut with a military blockade and PLO and Syrian
forces were evacuated. Following the assassination of President
Elect Gemeyal in September 1982, a Multinational Peacekeeping
force consisting of U.S. Marine Amphibious Unit (MAU), Italian,
and French forces were inserted into Beirut.
The mission of the U.S. Multinational Force (USMNF) was
passed down to CINCEUR by the JCS on 22 Sept 82. Three days
later the JCS amended the mission statement to read:
...land U.S. Marine Landing Force in Port of Beirut and/or vicinity of Beirut Airport(BIA). U.S. Forces will move to occupy positions along ans assigned section of a line extending from south of Beirut Airport to vicinity of the Presidential Palace Provide security posts at intersections of assigned section of line and major avenues of approach into the city of Beirut from south/southeast to deny passage of hostile armed elements in order to provide an environment which will permit Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) to carry out their responsibilities in the city of Beirut. Commander U.S. Forces will establish and maintain continuous coordination with other MNF units, EUCOM, liaison team and LAW. Commander U.S. Forces will provide air/naval gunfire support as required. 
This mission statement was passed down to the MAU commander
with no changes. The mission statement was ambiguous as to the
real task and purpose to be accomplished. The chain of command
could have provided additional guidance as to its exact meaning.
Therefore, each member of the chain of command had a different
interpretation of purpose of the Marines presence in Beirut.
Although the word "peacekeeping" was not put in the order, it was
emphasized by U.S. political leaders. It was estimated the
Marine force was entering a benign environment. The government
of Lebanon and the LAF were to guarantee the safety of the
The environment in which the USMNF was inserted was unstable
but hostility was low. But over the next 13 months the Lebanese
government and LAFs ability to control hostilities broke down.
Hostile actions indicate a change to a hostile environment:
March 1983 USMNF patrol suffered a grenade attack, wounding 5
Marines; April, destruction of the U.S. Embassy by a truck bomb
that, killed 17 Americans and destroyed the building; August,
Marines received mortar fire at the Airport, patrols were
attacked by RPG and sniper fire; September, BIA was shelled with
artillery fire killing 2 and wounding 2 Marines; and 19 October
1983 four Marines were wounded by a car bomb parked near a convoy
route. Although the environment of USMNF had become very hostile
(war status) the mission and its supporting guidance had not
changed. The peacekeeping view of U.S. political leaders was
unchanged. Military leaders at all levels did not change nor
request to change the mission. The change would have been
necessary to reflect the escalation of hostilities equivalent
to that of a war zone. This would have allowed the MAU commander
to take more aggressive measures to protect USMNF forces. The
tactical environment was not in synch with the peaceful nature of
BEIRUT: CHAIN OF COMMAND
The chain of command for the USMNF (see TAB A) did little to
assist the Battalion Landing Team (BLT). The various levels of
the chain of command were aware and concerned about the
increasingly hostile environment. But little was done to provide
critical guidance regarding a change in the defensive measures
required for protection of the Marines in Beirut. The critical
assistance required should have been taken in at least three
different steps. First, change the mission to allow more
aggressive actions in regarding defense of the BLT and BIA
locations. Second, update or change the Rules of Engagement
(ROE) to reflect the need for decisive action if attacked.
Third, insist on a withdrawal of Marines as their safety could
not be guaranteed. Step two would be necessary to provide for
the safety of the USMNF pending their withdrawal. 
The ROE for the USMNF was established in September 1982.
Initially it was considered to be adequate for the "nonhostile"
peacekeeping mission. It was also considered appropriate for the
assumed benign environment. The previously issued ROE was
revised May 1983 after the bombing of the American Embassy. But
the revised ROE guidelines were created only for those guarding
the new temporary embassy.
The two separate sets of guidelines were known as blue card
(For Embassy security) and white card (for BIA USMNF use) (see
TAB B). The blue card guidelines were less definitive and more
restrictive. When confronted with a potentially dangerous
situation, how could a sentry determine friendly versus hostile,
civilian protection versus civilian appearance with hostile
intention? Judgement of a situation is difficult when a sentry
must determine whether or not to contact a commissioned officer
to evaluate a rapidly developing situation. Use of force should
be defined by a clear set of guidelines for quick application in
any situation. The white card was what those securing the
perimeter were required to use as a guideline. Confusion is
created when a sentry must decide to fire and risk a court
martial (and a potential international incident) or not fire and
The ROE for the USMNF presented another point of confusion
for the for effective conduct of their mission. The ROE must be
clear so as to establish and communicate to troops the boundaries
upon which force may be applied. 
Intelligence was available to the MAU commander. But it
was in a large unsorted volume. Intelligence required for weapon
firing, such as naval gunfire was adequate. But information
regarding the terrorist threat was nonspecific and lacked detail.
Apparently no staff section in the chain of command was
designated to receive, sort, and provide timely information
tailored to the intelligence needs of the MAU commander. A
designated and dedicated staff section could have functioned as
an all source fusion center. The center could request, receive,
and process information from all intelligence sources. The need
for human intelligence (HUMINT) was critical to the success of
the survival of the USMNF. HUMINT would have been able to
provide more specific information regarding terrorist locations
and activities. 
At the time of the attack the truck carrying the bomb
penetrated the defensive perimeter between two guard posts. The
guards did not have the magazines in their weapons. The truck
flattened a third guard post on its way to the BLT headquarters
and subsequent detonation. The MAU commander had what appeared
to be lax security measures. On the surface it would be easy to
condemn the unit commander for the entire disaster. But an
examination of all that influenced the MAU commander provides
evidence for a different conclusion.
Painting a clear picture of the USMNF situation is to expose
a mission programmed for failure. First, a military unit was
deployed into a hostile and unstable environment. The area of
insertion was estimated to be benign. But Lebanon was a nation
at war with itself, a place of continuous conflict. To describe
Beirut as a benign environment is to be unaware of its history.
Second, the mission of the USMNF was not completely clear.
The peacekeeping mission was given verbally by political leaders
and assumed by all levels of the chain of command. The use of
peacekeeping concept without definition became a distraction.
It caused the MAU commander to be to cautions so as not to risk
an international incident.
Third, the chain of command failed to provide support. It
is the chain of command that has the inherent responsibility of
ensuring subordinates are given what is required to carry out
their mission. But when changes were required those in a
position to change or insist on changes did not take action. The
changing environment demanded revisions in mission, ROE, and
intelligence support. The MAU commander had little influence to
alter these elements which were critical to the MAU's survival.
Fourth, the intelligence support was inadequate. The MAU
had insufficient knowledge of the terrorist elements arrayed
against them. Information provided to was nonspecific and
Fifth, the ROE was inadequate to address the hostile
environment within which the USMNF was located. Leaders and
subordinates were given ambiguous guidelines in which to operate.
There was more concern about not creating an international
incident than protecting friendly forces.
KHOBAR TOWERS: ENVIRONMENT AND MISSION
In September of 1994 the terrorist threat in Saudi Arabia
was considered benign. Only three isolated attacks against
military targets had taken place. These occurred during the
early part of 1991 during Operation Desert Storm: 3 February,
1991, unknown individuals doused a U.S. transport bus with
kerosene; 3 February, 1991, shots were fired at a military bus,
injuring three U.S. soldiers; 28 March 1991, U.S. Marine vehicle
was fired upon injuring three Marines.
In late 1994 the internal security situation in Saudi Arabia
began to change. Reports of potential terrorist attacks and
activities increased in volume. But it was theorized that most
of these activities were in response to state-sponsored politics.
On 13 November, 1995 a car bomb exploded in a parking lot
adjacent to an office building housing the office of the project
manager, Saudi Arabian National Guard in Riyadh, causing five
U.S. fatalities. It was this event that should have alerted the
4404 Wing staff of an increase in terrorist activity.
The 4404 Wing was established on 13 March, 1991 at Al Karhj
Air Base. The unit later moved to Dhahran on 23 January, 1992.
The 4404 Wing was assigned to participate in Operation
Southern Watch as part of a Combined Joint Task force (CJTF).
The purpose of which was to enforce United Nations Security
Council Resolutions in the Gulf Region. The stated mission of
the 4404 Wing was to:
...serve as the front line defense against possible Iraqi aggression. To enforce United Nations Security Council solutions 687, 688, and 949 and protect U.S. forces stationed in Kuwait, United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.
Members of 4404 Wing rotated frequently. The commander of
the wing and squadron along with the key parts of the staff
rotated every 12 months. Other elements of the staff and
security force rotated every 30, 60, and 90 days. Up to 10% of
the enlisted force was turning over every week. The advantages
of a permanently established organization were not present.
KHOBAR TOWERS: CHAIN OF COMMAND
The chain of command for the 4404 Wing was divided between
two categories of control. This division did not lend itself to
a clear delineation of which command was responsible for force
protection. The commander of the CJTF had tactical control over
the 4404 Wing, but this did not include authority over logistical
matters, unit billeting locations.
Operational control was exercised by the Air Component
Commander located at Shaw AFB, South Carolina, over 7,000 miles
away. After the bombing of the National Guard Office the CJTF
was assigned force protection oversight for combatant forces
operating in Saudi Arabia. But the authority to accomplish this
responsibility was not provided.
MG Anderson, U.S. Air Force was recently assigned as CJTF
Commander on 22 April 1996. He was not apprised of any force
protection concerns by Commander in Chief, U.S. Central Command
(CENTCOM) prior to assuming command. The new commander did not
understand his authority to be directive in nature. The new
commander had the power to enforce force protection measures
but did not have operational control. 
KHOBAR TOWERS: INTELLIGENCE
Intelligence support to the Wing commander was a mixed bag
of support. The unit was not well served by the intelligence
structure assigned. The Wing intelligence staff section was
predominantly used to support the conduct of air missions for
Operation Southern Watch. The base police force did not have a
dedicated intelligence section, which meant the security force
commander acted as his own intelligence officer. Various upper
levels of the chain of command had access to intelligence
information which would have been of importance to the air wing.
But classification restrictions prevented their dissemination.
On the other hand, pertinent information was made available
to the Wing Commander. Reports of potential terrorist attacks
and physical security assessments were passed on to the air wing.
Unfortunately, HUMINT was not available to provide more accurate
data regarding terrorist activities and locations of attacks.
KHOBAR TOWERS: CONCLUSIONS
The Wing Commander must accept the majority of blame for
being vulnerable to attack. But other elements must share blame
for creating an environment of vulnerability. First, the chain
of command relationships did not promote force protection
concepts. There were no established theater standards for force
protection for Gulf units to use a guide. Nor were any training
programs established for those deploying to the region. CENTCOM
personnel did inspect force protection measures employed by units
of the CJTF. Although made responsible for force protection, the
CJTF was never given authority to carry out these assigned
Second, intelligence support was incomplete and nonspecific.
The 4404 Wing was understaffed to perform the intelligence
functions required to collect and process the information.
Third, Saudi local authorities had responsibility for security
outside the compound at Dhahran. The authorities did increase
patrols around the compound, but, requests to move the fence
line father away from the towers were denied. Moving the fence
would have increased the standoff distance and prevented access
via the street.
However there were elements under control of the wing
commander. First, personnel did not have to be billeted in
Khobar Towers. The change would have caused two or three
personnel to share a room and would have been unpopular.
Second, no alert drills were ever conducted for residents of
the towers. Given turnover rate of personnel, perhaps these
should have been conducted weekly or monthly.
Third, the installation of an easy to use alarm system for
early warning of an impending attack. The system in place in
June 1996, was insufficient and the steps required for its
activation too laborious. Fourth, the rotation policies were a
negative influence on the continuity of operations. Although
this was a service component policy, there is no record of the
wing commanders' protest. Security personnel rotated without
test firing or zeroing their weapons. Rotation of staff
personnel every 90 days prohibited familiarity with the
peculiarities of the local environment.
COMPARISON AND CONCLUSION
Environment. Beirut was a more hostile area than that of
Dhahran. The USMNF was sent into a combat zone, although it was
not viewed as such, it was assumed benevolent to U.S. forces.
Similarly Dhahran was assumed to be benign. The absence of open
hostilities to U.S., provided a false sense of security. In both
situations there were signs of an increasing non-conventional
threat to U.S. forces. Each truck bombing was preceded by events
that presented evidence of increased hostilities. The
environment turned hostile but no one recognized the change.
Mission. The goal of what the two units were intended to
accomplish was very similar. Both were required to participate
in operations to bring stability to unstable regions of the
world. However, the USMNF was deployed to a war zone during a
period of temporary cessation of hostilities. Their mission
statement did not accurately reflect the purpose of their
presence. In contrast, the 4404 Wing received a clearly defined
mission. In the case of mission there is no direct parallel.
Chain of Command. In both instances the chain of command
did not support deployed forces. Confusion generated by
multiple and ambiguous lines of vertical command diluted
responsibility for support and force protection. Since those in
the chain of command did not feel responsible, they did not
seek clarification of mission, a change in ROE, or seek improved
Intelligence. The requirement for timely, accurate and
focused intelligence information could have served both units.
4404 was not granted access to pertinent information due to
classification restrictions. Nor were its organic staff sections
adequately staffed to perform all the duties required. The USMNF
suffered from a large volume of unfocused information. Neither
had the benefit of HUMINT information.
Conclusion. The most glaring and astonishing error that
occurred in both instances is a poorly defined or unclear chain
of command. This is most surprising, given the passage of the
Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986, which gave combatant CINCs the
authority and responsibility to organize, command, and support
the organizations under their command. The chain of command had
the responsibility to change the mission, ROE, and intelligence
support. But despite thirteen years and increased force
protection awareness, there was not a clearly defined chain
of command established for the 4404 Wing.
Secondly, the need to provide good intelligence support was
overlooked. This especially includes: the availability of
HUMINT; focused information for the region of deployment; and
access to information utilized only at highest levels of command.
Commanders must receive timely intelligence, focused on the units
immediate threat, and trained staff personnel to receive and
process the information. Intelligence information was
uncoordinated and was overlooked as the key to knowing the most
Guidelines of Rules of Engagement
1. When on the post, mobile or foot patrol, keep loaded magazine in weapon, bolt closed,
weapon on safe, no round in the chamber.
- Do not chamber a round unless told to do so by a commissioned offiecer miles you must
act in immediate self‑defense where deadly force is authorized.
- Keep ammo for crew served weapons readily available but not loaded. Weapons on safe.
- Call local forces to assist in self‑defense effort. Notify headquarters.
- Use only minimum degree of force to accomplish any mission.
- Stop the use of force when it is no longer needed to accomplish the mission.
7. If you receive effective hostile fire, direct your fire at the source. If possible, use friendly
8. Respect civilian property; do not attack it unless absolutely necessary to protect friendly forces.
9. Protect innocent civilians from harm.
10. Respect and protect recognized medical agencies such as Red Cross and Red Crescent, etc.
Figure 1. Beirut White Card ROE: September 1982 ‑ October 1983
Rules of Engagement for American and British Embassy External Security Forces
- Loaded magazines will be in weapons at all times when on post. bolt closed, weapon on
safe. No round will be in the chamber,
- Round will be chambered only when intending to fire.
3. Weapon will be fired only under the following circumstances
a. A hostile act has been committed
(1) A hostile act is defined as rounds fired at the embassy, embassy personnel, embassy vehicle, or Marine sentries.
(2) The response will be proportional.
(3 )The response will cease when attack ceases.
(4) There will be no pursuit by fire.
(5) A hostile act from a vehicle is when it crosses the established
barricade. First fire to diable the vehicle and apprehend occupants. If the
vehicle cannot be stopped. fire on the occupants.
(6) A hostile act from an individual or group of individuals is present
when they cross the barricade and will not stop after warnings in Arabic
and French. If they do not stop fire at them.
4. Well aimed fire will be used; weapons will not be placed on automatic.
5. Care will be taken to avoid civilian casualties.
Figure 2. Beirut Blue Card ROE: May 1983 ‑ October 1983
Benis M. Frank, U.S. Marines in Lebanon 1982‑1984, (Washington DC : History and Museums Division, Headquarter, U.S. Marine Corps, 1987), 24 and 64.
1. Department of Defense Report, Commission on The Beirut International Airport Act, October 23, 1983. U.S. Government Printing Office, 1983.
2. Department of Defense Report, Force Protection Assessment of CENTCOM AOR and Khobar Towers: Report of The Downing Assessment Task Force, 30 August 1996. U.S. Government Printing Office, 1996.
3. Perry, William J., "Force Protection: Hardening The Target, "Defense 96, Issue 6, American Forced Information Services 1996. 1-16.
4. Hillen, John, "Peacekeeping in Our Time: The UN as a Professional Military Manager," Parameters, U.S. Army War College Quarterly, VOL 3, Autumn 1996, 17-33.