TAKING THE FALL?
JULY 31, 1997
Moves against an Air Force general for what happened in a terrorist attack in Saudi Arabia may have caused more than just his downfall. After this background report by Charles Kraus, a panel discussion.
CHARLES KRAUSE: On June 25th last year a truck bomb exploded outside a military compound in Saudi Arabia, killing 19 American airmen and wounding hundreds of others. The airmen living at the Khobar Towers complex were members of a U.S. Air Force unit assigned to fly patrols over nearby Southern Iraq.
Brigadier General Terryl Schwalier was commander of the unit, the 4404th Air Wing, and just before the bombing, he'd been nominated for a second star, scheduled for promotion to major general. But Schwalier became the focus of investigations into what could have prevented the attack and the center of a controversy inside the Pentagon over fixing responsibility for field commanders.
An independent Pentagon commission, led by Retired Army General Wayne Downing, did take Schwalier to task. Downing told the NewsHour in September that as wing commander, Schwalier should have taken more precautions.
GEN. WAYNE DOWNING (Ret.), U.S. Army: (September 1996) Well, basically, our finding was that there was a considerable body of information and intelligence available that would--that led us to believe and led the forces in Saudi Arabia to believe that there was a credible terrorist threat. So there was a body of information over there, certainly, that led the commanders to take measures to improve their security.
JIM LEHRER: But they didn't take enough, is that your point?
GEN. WAYNE DOWNING: That's correct.
CHARLES KRAUSE: But two separate Air Force reports refused to hold Schwalier responsible, and Air Force Chief of Staff General Ronald Fogleman stood behind the Khobar commander. In February, he told a Senate committee the bombing was an act of war that could not have been prevented.
On Monday, Gen. Fogleman sent a letter of resignation to Air Force Secretary Sheila Widnal. Though he didn't cite the Schwalier case, Air Force officials said it was behind his early retirement. And today, Secretary of Defense William Cohen announced that Schwalier would be denied promotion to major general, effectively ending his Air Force career.
WILLIAM COHEN, Secretary of Defense: Personal accountability is not simply a question of assigning blame. It involves understanding the obligations of leaders, defending command responsibility, and clarifying the high standards of performance that we expect from commanders who are entrusted with the safety of our troops. I found that Brig. General Terryl Schwalier, the wing commander at the time, did not adequately assess the implications of a possible attack on the perimeter of the Khobar complex.
As a result, he did not develop an effective plan for responding to a perimeter attack, and based on this finding, I have concluded that it would not be appropriate to promote Brig. Gen. Schwalier to the rank of Major General. The Khobar Towers have no effective alarm system to warn of an impending terrorist attack. The evacuation plan for residents in Khobar Tower were inadequate. And second, the command had not developed and tested and trained personnel to evacuation plans--to use these evacuation plans.
All military successes and failures ultimately reflect the effectiveness of the chain of command, which shares the responsibility for personal safety, for personnel safety. But as Brig. General Schwalier acknowledged, force protection is first and foremost the responsibility of the commander on the scene. His chain of command kept him apprized of the threat that he faced and offered support on force protection.
He never referred any protection problems up the chain of his command, and, therefore, I've concluded that no adverse action should be taken against officers and Brig. Gen. Schwalier's chain of command.
CHARLES KRAUSE: At today's press conference Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General John Shalikashvili emphasized that Pentagon generals cannot be seen as protecting their own.
GEN. JOHN SHALIKASHVILI, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff: Now, we must avoid the temptation to circle the wagons around one of our senior officers. The appropriate response is to do what we've always done, to assess performance and potential against the standards we expect of a general officer.
CHARLES KRAUSE: After the press conference, Brig. Gen. Schwalier submitted his resignation from the Air Force.