In my post about this earlier, I noted that the NY Times reported that the gunman shouted “God is great” (Allahu akbar) before opening fire. It took the Times 18 paragraphs, in an 18-paragraph story, to get to that fact. It’s the ultimate burying of the lead, as those words tells us why the entire attack happened. It was a terrorist attack. The question is, did the gunman act alone or did he have help? We don’t know yet.
The airmen involved in today’s attack in Frankfurt were said to be transitioning from Lackenheath air base in the UK, through Ramstein in Germany to Afghanistan. In all likelihood, they were unarmed: The vast majority of airmen are not issued weapons at all, and even if these airmen have been issued weapons due to their job requirements, they were traveling through a civilian airport and were therefore very unlikely to be armed anyway. But chances are, they were in uniform, making them stand out from everyone else around.
They were easy targets, as will be all US military personnel traveling through civilian airports throughout the world. Such travel is beyond commonplace. When I was in the US Air Force, I flew in and out of Narita air port in Tokyo all the time, in uniform and out of uniform depending on circumstances, and in groups or individually, again depending on circumstances. It was never difficult to find the spot where US military personnel were picked up for the daily shuttle buses to the various bases around the city. You could ask just about anyone in the airport where that spot was, and be pointed directly to it. The terminal area where the airmen were attacked today is where US troops meet and are picked up for shuttles and the like all the time. The van they were riding in was a marked GOV, government owned vehicle. And the gunman apparently worked at the airport. He would have easily known where US troops congregate, and he could easily have observed that they travel unarmed, so this attack would have required little planning and no external support.
But that said, there has been a warning in effect in Germany since November, regarding al Qaeda connected individuals planning to open fire on civilians in public spaces, specifically train stations and airports. Which is what happened today.
The US military is going to have to change the way it handles military personnel travel through civilian space. It is just too easy to spot the troops, and therefore too easy to target and kill them when they are at one of their most vulnerable points. What form that change takes, I can’t say. But change will have to come, or we will see more one-off attacks, and perhaps even broader and more coordinated attacks, on our troops like this attack in the future. Such attacks are just too easy to pull off.