Skip to comments.Could USS Cole tragedy have been avoided?
Posted on 04/07/2004 6:00:45 PM PDT by detch
October 18, 2000
UNITED NATIONS The terrorist attack on the USS Cole, refueling in the port of Aden again sharply focuses the stark vulnerability of American interests in the Middle East. While it's easy to play "Monday morning quarterback" after such a tragedy, its equally prudent to question the set of circumstances which witnessed a planned suicide attack on the destroyer Cole tragically sending seventeen American sailors to their untimely deaths.
All the pieces were in place; An overextended fleet--today 325 ships down from 600 in Ronald Reagan's fleet--a mandate patrolling the Persian Gulf enforcing sanctions on Iraq, a lack of oilier vessels because of cutbacks, thus prompting the fatal choice to make a questionable port call in a place like Yemen.
Allowing the USS Cole, a modern guided missile destroyer go unescorted into Aden was possibly safe, but probably better avoided given regional tensions, emotions and threat profiles, especially in the wake of renewed Palestinian /Israeli fighting.
One must not underestimate the visceral anti-American hysteria, emanating from the Palestinian uprising on the West Bank, Gaza and Israel. An American ship is like a red flag to a bull during such times throughout the Islamic world, even far from the political epicenter; whether one is in Yemen or Pakistan.
The small boat suicide attack on the Cole, impacted hundreds of pounds of high explosives against the ship's hull causing a gaping 40 hole in the vessel. FBI investigators, soon to be backed up by 1,200 Marines for security, are searching for the culprits likely to be the Osama Bin Laden organization or some of the other terrorists who Yemen home.
Why were we operating in such a dangerous environment? Where's our planning? While its common knowledge that US ships have gone into Aden for refueling since early 1999, bunkering was not done in times of violent upheaval and high octane hate. Furthermore, the US Embassy in Yemen has prudently warned about the risks of American ships visiting Aden.
General Anthony Zinni, recently retired Pentagon Chief for Middle East operations defended his original decision to use Aden as a refueling port and the desirability of bringing Yemen closer to American interests. General Zinni told the New York Times that several ship visits had been vetoed by the American Ambassador to Yemen, Barbara Bodine, who worried about the threat of terrorism.
Importantly National Security Advisor Sandy Berger, Defense Secretary William Cohen, and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright were not opposed to the Yemeni port calls for US Navy ships. "Mr. Berger, Mr. Cohen, and Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, defended the decision to use Aden as a refueling point despite concerns about security in a country the State Department itself called `a safe haven for terrorists,' earlier this year," cites the New York Times .
Thus we again ask the painfully poignant question? Why would a US Navy vessel be in Aden in the first place? Mountainous Yemen has a well earned reputation as a wild and woolly place for friend and foe alike, kind of an Afghanistan by the Red Sea. It seems that Yemen rarely enters the media except when hapless foreign tourists, usually Europeans, stumble into kidnaps, ambushes, and afoul of some local militia.
Moreover as a old Soviet client state, there are more than enough people who don't quite welcome an American presence even if it means needed revenues for the Port of Aden.
Though Aden and its famous Steamer Point was woven into the strategic planning and lore of the British Royal Navy until 1967, modern Yemen has suffered the vicissitudes of civil war, national division with South Yemen, the former the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen, being an classic Soviet client.
Washington has worked on improving relations with the current regime of Field Marshall Ali Abdullah Saleh. Clearly there's a case for better ties with strategic Yemen . Yet, a seeming nonchalance about credible threats underscores a larger problem. Sadly the Clinton/Gore Administration's usual sloppy planning, Alice in Wonderland worldview, and "it can't happen here" mindset, creates such a glaring vulnerability.
John J. Metzler is a U.N. correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He writes weekly for World Tribune.com.
October 18, 2000
Donate Here By Secure Server
FreeRepublic , LLC
PO BOX 9771
FRESNO, CA 93794
It is in the breaking news sidebar!
1. The deck security force might have been properly briefed NOT to allow ANY unauthorised craft near the ship;
2. Said deck security might have been allowed to LOAD THEIR WEAPONS (they weren't).
3. They might have been authorized to fire on unauthorized craft approaching a Navy ship (they weren't);
4. They might have, Heaven forfend, even have been allowed to POINT their weapons at a potential threat to their vessels (they weren't).
In other words, due to absolutely INSANE Rules Of Engagement promulgated by an "administration" that was terrified of "offending" the locals, seventeen Sailors died, and a Navy ship was nearly sunk.
I wonder, what would Halsey, Nimitz, or Spruance have said? Would they have behaved as the Admirals nowadays did, and say and do NOTHING?
That's another good point. I heard, but haven't followed up to confirm, that she was half full, and the port call was NOT necessary. Rather, the port call was to show some sort of show of goodwill, e.g., "We'll buy YOUR fuel."
You left out Admiral Husband Edward Kimmel and Major General Walter Short, the respective Navy and Army commanders at Pearl Harbor on 07 December, 1941. I expect most would behave as they did, and afterwards, would pay a pretty similar price.
As for the number of boats around, any getting within the ship's "safe zone" without proper clearance (and only a harbor tug would have this...not a raft or rowboat) would find its day solidly ruined.
I am not surprised in the least.
Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.