The Bombing of Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia

Before the June 25 bombing at the Khobar Towers housing complex in Dhahran, Air Force officers had raised security standards throughout the Gulf Region. Vulnerability assessments suggested reducing people’s concentration and installing shatter-resistant glass windows for better protection. The Amazing fact about Khobar Towers Bombing.

The 4404th Wing’s main objective was to prevent terrorists from infiltrating its compounds by setting up barriers around its perimeter and placing barbed wire fences along it.

The Preparation

At the time of the attack, the 58th Fighter Wing was preparing to relocate from Khobar Towers to King Abdul Aziz International Airport. Airmen were moving between buildings, swapping desks, and packing items away. Commander Doug Cochran’s quarters were located in Building 131; Patrick AFB members shared these in Florida.

Residents of a complex looked out over a manicured parking lot and dusty median towards city parks and private homes. A slender concrete tower rose out of the median.

The complex’s relationship between US forces and their Saudi hosts defined life at the complex. Saudis provided housing, ramp space, and facilities at King Abdul Aziz International Airport and elsewhere, in addition to providing food, water, and jet fuel for coalition forces stationed there; Western military personnel were expected to maintain low profiles while staying out of sight.

Before the bombing, senior Air Force officials had already prioritized stopping terrorist car bombs from infiltrating Khobar Towers as one of their top priorities. Although the compound only had one entrance and could only be breached through its parking lot, obstacles such as road stars and tire shredders were installed along with more extended traffic patterns and reset traffic patterns, as well as barriers staked down around it and bunkers constructed as defense measures.

At the same time, US military intelligence gathered evidence suggesting that those responsible were Iranian-linked Shiite Muslim militants supported by Lebanese Hezbollah. Sunni Saudi Arabia had tenuous relations with Shiite Iran and did not want to appear to support domestic militancy in any form.

Intelligence revealed that the bombings were intended to send a message that the USAF should reduce its presence in Iraq – another sensitive subject as the military saw the invasion as essential to national security to defeat Iran’s proxy forces.

The Day of the Attack

Shattered glass from a truck bomb explosion sent shrapnel flying, showering down from towers and other buildings up to a mile away in Dhahran. A massive crater measuring 85 feet wide by 35 feet deep was left where the truck had been parked; six high-rise apartment buildings were heavily damaged or destroyed as a result, and windows were shattered across many other properties by this powerful blast.

Master Sgt. Norma Gillette was working Wing’s security police sentry at Building 131 when she heard a loud, thundering noise that made her hair stand on end and then witnessed its front collapse into itself. She was on the second floor when it happened and was thrown through a window onto her head before suffering a concussion, back injuries, broken leg fractures, and an open head wound on her forehead, which now bears scars from this event.

She believes the bombing was an invaluable lesson: terrorists were trying to show us they could get past our defense perimeter and attack our base; she was shocked that such damage could have been done so quickly.

Schwalier had placed sentries on rooftops of buildings and along security fencing; however, he failed to conduct evacuation drills to test their ability to quickly alert residents of potential danger and evacuate them quickly from buildings if one were necessary – an action for which Schwalier was heavily criticized after the attack occurred.

On the day of the attack, it had been an idyllic and warm morning in Boston; families were strolling on its famed Promenade des Anglais seafront promenade. At 8:20 am, the bombing occurred after the Flight 11 hijacker hijacker unintentionally activated its communication system, alerting Boston Air Traffic Control about his plan.

Just before the bomb dropped, a white lorry driving near the security perimeter unexpectedly turned onto the promenade and moved towards the airport before abruptly turning back onto it and colliding into beachfront barriers. An eyewitness reported the driver acting erratically by speeding up and breaking suddenly; residents in Building 131 who could see the scene directly from their balconies reported it to Wing security police.

The Damage

The 4404th had been present in Saudi Arabia for quite some time now. Our host nation provided housing, runway space and facilities, food, water, and jet fuel in exchange for our presence there, expecting us to keep a low-profile company.

The bombing of Khobar Towers caused devastating destruction. It caused severe damage or destruction of six high-rise buildings in the complex and nearby buildings up to one mile away and caused windows in buildings up to one mile away to shatter, leaving huge craters formed where the truck bomb was detonated with saltwater from the Persian Gulf slowly filling it in less than 24 hours. Blast waves and vacuum forces from the blast caused roofs of buildings to tear off while sending vehicles flying through the air, causing extensive property damage and injuries among personnel involved.

Airmen from the 58th Fighter Squadron (Fighters) and allied nations worked tirelessly to repair damage sustained to continue vital missions over southern Iraq. Those injured were treated on-scene by medical teams that bravely sacrificed themselves – often even risking their own lives – to save fellow service members; Brigadier General Terryl J. Schwalier was no different, having spent hours swapping desks and packing personal effects before an attack occurred for his change of command ceremony at Building 131 that morning.

Before the bombing, the wing commander and his staff had executed the list of actions outlined by Downing’s report on traffic patterns, lengthening road stars and barriers, and increasing security within their compound. Following what had transpired at OPM-SANG, stopping a vehicle bomb from infiltrating Khobar Towers quickly became their top priority.

Schwalier requested money in April to install protective Mylar coating on the windows of his high-rises in Riyadh wing – vulnerable windows that were susceptible to attack – which drew considerable controversy until, following the bombing, this measure could finally be put in place.

The Aftermath

Even after the bombing killed 19 Airmen, life at the base continued. Surviving Airmen quickly resumed their duties. Kenneth Giddens recalls how people helped each other immediately while also feeling afraid.

Before the attack, security was never a primary focus for the 4404th Wing (Provisional). Like most installations overseas, security for visitors and citizens rested with their host nation; guards at OPM-SANG assured of this fact.

Brigadier General Terryl Schwalier was responsible for Force Protection on the entire compound and had implemented numerous changes to improve security in the spring of 1996 based on intelligence reports of suspicious activities nearby and information from local military police of any incidents in their immediate area that appeared suspicious; these investigations concluded they posed no immediate threat.

Schwalier’s leadership and emphasis on security were instrumental to its success. His chain of command provided vital assistance; Major General Hurd, the J-3 for USCENTCOM, visited after the attack and was impressed with Schwalier’s enhanced security measures. Furthermore, General Wayne A. Downing briefed Schwalier.

Downing’s report highlighted the need for the Air Force to strengthen its focus on security. A review was initiated to assess how the Air Force organized, trained, and equipped its forces deployed to regions for increased Force Protection efforts.

A directive issued on September 4, 1996, appointed me as the disciplinary review authority and convening authority of Air Force personnel involved in the Khobar Towers bombing, along with making recommendations regarding deployment, training, and equipping forces in the region with particular attention paid to security matters. In response to these requests, I established the DoD Anti-Terrorism Task Force, which addressed these matters.

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