Air Force: Expect Civilian Deaths, Bad P.R.

Jan. 23, 2003 -- The Air Force is preparing to fly as many as 1,500 sorties a day if there is war with Iraq and is seriously concerned about the public relations backlash from an expected high level of collateral damage, according to a 104-page report, portions of which were obtained by ABCNEWS.

MORE INVESTIGATIVE NEWS:

• FBI Hunts Hijacker Connection in Fla. Home • Bin Laden's Escape: Stealth or Fakeout?

The report, called "'PSAB CAOC Tiger Team: Interim Report and Recommendations," was commissioned last year to examine communication and staffing problems at the Combined Air Operations Command located at the Prince Sultan Air Base in Saudi Arabia, which would coordinate an air war against Iraq.

The report found "collateral damage concerns, the CNN effect and casualty aversion are all placing additional tensions on the CAOC." The so-called "CNN effect" is the ability of television viewers around the world to have ongoing, often real-time, access to coverage which was unavailable before the advent of cable news and improved satellite technology.

The Air Force report says the Saudis permitted only 350 additional personnel at the base during Operation Enduring Freedom, the Afghanistan Air War, and that at least 1,000 more personnel will be needed if war begins with Iraq.

But the report cautioned that even with the additional 1,000 personnel, there could still be problems.

"There's little room for error, no cushion for fog and friction," the report said.

The report also warns that fatigue and "requirements for collateral damage estimates" could wear out the Air Force personnel who worked 14- to 19-hour days "with no time off for 60 days" during the Afghanistan operation.

The report also found "significant confusion about roles, responsibilities and chain of command" throughout key areas within the CAOC. It blamed a lack of clear organization and training by commanders.

"For our premier USAF Weapons system we do not man our force smartly," the report said.

Air Force officials had no immediate comment on the report.

The study, stamped extensively with "For Official Use Only," was finished May 31, 2002. A month and a half earlier, two U.S. pilots mistakenly bombed a Canadian training exercise near Kandahar, and on Jan. 24, a commando raid on the village of Hazar Qadam in the Uruzgan province killed at least 16 people. The Pentagon later said it had made a mistake, and that it had likely killed pro-American Afghan fighters.

On July 1, a month after the report, a U.S. bomb strike hit a wedding in Uruzgan province, killing dozens of people and injuring more than 100.

During the 1991 Gulf War, a laser-guided bomb strike destroyed a bomb shelter in Baghdad, killing 400 civilians, many of them children. The site had appeared to U.S. intelligence to be a military target. It later turned out that Iraqi defenders has simply used the building to mount an antenna.

— Brian Ross and Rhonda Schwartz

FBI Hunts Hijacker Connection in Fla. Home

Jan. 23 — The FBI raided a West Palm Beach, Fla., home Tuesday as part of an investigation into whether the Saudi family who used to live there had connections to any of the Sept. 11 hijackers.

FBI agents scoured every inch of the house Tuesday and Wednesday, including the roof, and towed away a car apparently abandoned by its owner months ago, to check for fingerprints.

Neighbors say the Almasri family, which hailed from Saudi Arabia, abruptly disappeared just days before the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, leaving behind one son, Turki, 22. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers are believed to have been Saudis.

The son, Turki Almasri, was a student at Kemper Aviation located nearby at the Palm Beach County Park Airport, where in August 2001 alleged 9/11 ringleader Mohamed Atta rented single engine planes.

Joe Kemper, President of Kemper Aviation, told ABCNEWS that several teams of FBI agents visited the school on Sept. 12, 2001, and seized the records of all students of Saudi Arabian origin, including Almasri.

Kemper said many of the agents spoke with and interviewed the students, although he did not recall seeing Almasri speaking directly with agents. Almasri was still at the school, he said.

Almasri applied for his student visa through Kemper Aviation, and claimed to be a flight attendant for Saudi Airlines. The carrier could not confirm his employment.

It was unclear what sparked the bureau's new, intense interest in Almasri's old home a year and a half after they apparently first learned of him.

Law enforcement sources told ABCNEWS that FBI headquarters was livid over the handling of the investigation.

On one occasion in June last summer, a detective contacted the FBI about suspicious behavior that once occurred there, sources said. And in autumn of last year, the housing association overseeing the home sent a letter to the Miami FBI office expressing concerns of how quickly the Almasris abandoned their residence.

Sources told ABCNEWS that agents have not been able to establish any direct ties between the Almasri family and the September hijackers, but said that law enforcement is intrigued by a number of facts including:

The discovery of a record from a bank that was also used by some of the hijackers during their stay in Florida. According to the indictment filed against Zacharias Moussaoui, money was transferred several times to Mohamed Atta and Marwan Al-Shehhi's account at the same bank, the Florida SunTrust bank.

Evidence that the family and the hijackers entered the United States during the same time frame.

The concern that a number of people in that household fit the hijackers' profile closely.

The discovery of a record from a bank also used by some of the 9/11 hijackers during their stay in Florida.

The family's whereabouts are unknown.

— Pierre Thomas and Risa Molitz

Bin Laden's Escape: Stealth or Phone Fakeout?

Jan. 23 — U.S. intelligence sources say the theory advanced by a Washington Post story that Osama bin Laden escaped the bombing of Tora Bora in Afghanistan with a clever satellite phone ruse is "plausible" but the United States has no independent information to confirm that it actually happened.

According to the report, bin Laden sent a bodyguard off with a satellite phone that he knew U.S. forces would track, while he escaped in another direction.

Obviously during the time of the Tora Bora offensive, the United States forces were paying a great deal of attention to al Qaeda communications, intercepting anything that came out of the area, looking for clues as to who might be there.

Sources say from various types of intelligence — human as well as communications intercepts — the U.S. forces did have strong indications bin Laden was there. To this day they believe he was there.

The current theory on how he escaped is that he walked out with one or two followers. It is unclear whether he took communications with him. It is unclear if some aide kept his previous satellite phone and kept using it as cover.

— John McWethy