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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. Unprepared for Enormity of Saudi Blast

DHAHRAN, Saudi Arabia -- U.S. authorities were not prepared for a blast as big as the huge truck bomb that wrecked a U.S. military complex in Saudi Arabia, killing 19 U.S. servicemen, a U.S. general said Thursday.

As FBI investigators combed the rubble of a devastated apartment block, Major General Kurt Anderson said defenses would be stepped up.

Anderson and Brigadier General Terry Schwalier, commander of U.S. forces in Dhahran, made clear they had not anticipated such an enormous bomb, which they said had the force of about 1,360 kilograms of explosive.

Instead, they said, the U.S. threat assessment was based on an attack last November on a U.S. military training center in Riyadh, involving a device less than one-tenth the size of the Dhahran bomb. Five Americans and two Indians died in the earlier blast.

"Based on the vulnerability assessment that we did ... I was satisfied" with security arrangements in Dhahran, Schwalier said.

"Every experience, no matter how tragic it might be, is a learning experience," Anderson added. "We will use this as a learning experience and, as you might expect, significant changes will occur."

He also said allied flights from Dhahran to police a no-fly zone in southern Iraq, suspended after the bomb blast, would resume Friday.

Bodies of the U.S. servicemen killed by Tuesday night's explosion were flown from Saudi Arabia to the United States early on Thursday. About 40 of the 250 Americans injured by the blast were to be flown to Germany later in the day.

Anderson, who heads the southern Iraq operation, told a news conference that although U.S., British and French flights in support of Operation Southern Watch over Iraq had been halted out of Dhahran, they had been maintained from other bases in Saudi Arabia which he did not identify.

"Beginning tomorrow, we'll execute that mission with aircraft based at this base," the Air Force general said.

The operation is designed to prevent a repeat of Iraq's strikes on Shi'a Moslem dissidents which followed Baghdad's defeat in the 1991 Gulf War, or a buildup of Iraqi ground forces close to its southern border with Kuwait.

There was still no firm indication of who had carried out Tuesday's bombing, although a second previously unknown group, calling itself Hizbollah-Gulf, claimed responsibility in a call on Thursday to an international news agency.

Another group had said in a call to an Arabic-language newspaper in London on Wednesday that it caused the explosion. Saudi Arabia has offered a 10 million-riyal ($2.67 million) reward for help in securing arrests.