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Combating Terrorism: Improvements Needed in Southern Command's Antiterrorism Approach for In-Transit Forces at Seaports.

GAO-04-80NI October 31, 2003

The October 12, 2000, attack against the Navy destroyer USS Cole in the port of Aden, Yemen, illustrates the danger of unconventional threats to U.S. ships operating in seaports overseas. The attack also heightened recognition that in-transit forces--Department of Defense (DOD) units, personnel, and assets traveling through or conducting missions within an area of operations, including operations at seaports--are vulnerable to attack by determined terrorists. This report addresses the following questions: (1) To what extent does the U.S. Southern Command's approach to antiterrorism cover all in-transit forces at seaports in its area of responsibility? (2) Are there opportunities to improve the Southern Command's antiterrorism approach for in-transit forces at seaports?

The Southern Command's approach to protecting DOD in-transit vessels as they enter overseas ports is designed to protect most vessels, but a gap exists that may leave certain vessels and their military cargo vulnerable to hostile actions. The Command currently requires each ship captain, or in some cases Military Sealift Command officials, to prepare and submit a ship force protection plan to Southern Command officials for approval before the ship is allowed to enter port. However, commercial ships chartered by the Navy's Military Sealift Command to carry military equipment or supplies for a single, specific voyage--called voyage charters--have visited ports without following this approach. These vessels were excluded from the Command's approach because (1) Southern Command force protection officials have determined that DOD policies do not specifically include voyage charters as part of their antiterrorism responsibilities, and (2) Naval Forces, Southern Command, and Military Sealift Command, Atlantic, officials have not clearly defined antiterrorism roles and responsibilities for voyage charter vessels. Until the Southern Command includes voyage charter vessels as part of its responsibilities, and specific antiterrorism roles and responsibilities for those vessels are delineated, voyage charter vessels and the military cargo they carry will continue to be at unnecessary risk of hostile actions. Opportunities exist for the Southern Command to improve its antiterrorism approach for in-transit forces at seaports by using two key mechanisms--working groups and periodic reviews. A Joint Staff study on antiterrorism best practices identified antiterrorism working groups as an effective mechanism for continuously reviewing antiterrorism measures and emerging threats in order to proactively identify improvements to a commander's antiterrorism program. While the Command has an antiterrorism working group at the command level, this group is not organized or designed to focus on the antiterrorism approach for in-transit forces because Command officials question the usefulness of such a focus. In addition, oversight mechanisms similar to those DOD uses to evaluate antiterrorism measures at fixed installations do not exist to evaluate the Southern Command's overall antiterrorism programs, plans, and procedures for in-transit forces; therefore, gaps or weaknesses may not be identified, placing in-transit forces at unnecessary risk. Without the benefit of a forum focused on antiterrorism measures for in-transit forces and appropriate oversight, the command may be limited in its ability to develop and maintain a dynamic antiterrorism approach for in-transit forces.
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Publication:General Accounting Office Reports & Testimony
Date:Dec 1, 2003
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