- The Washington Times - Monday, January 8, 2001

Petty Officer John Washak was told not to point his M-60 machine gun at another small boat approaching the USS Cole after the first boat had blown a hole in the side of the destroyer. "With blood still on my face," he told The Washington Post, he was commanded: "That's the rules of engagement no shooting unless we're shot at," by a senior chief petty officer. Now both the Pentagon and the Navy are coming out with reports that show there were significant breaches in security in the region. The U.S. military needs rules of engagement that match security threats, rather than invite them.

According to the Navy investigation though, the Cole's security guards were prevented from firing warning shots to approaching boats because of orders from the Navy's 5th Fleet based in Bahrain. The reason? There were diplomatic concerns over what would happen if U.S. sailors fired any shots in an Arab port. There is something wrong when diplomatic handcuffs prevent the military from defending itself. Even so, the Navy commission found that the captain and crew had not followed existing security procedures the morning of the bombing, which could lead to punishment for the ship's captain, Commander Kirk S. Lippold. The Navy, however, doesn't believe any of these errors alone could have prevented the attack.

The Pentagon report, to be made public this week, highlights areas that could prevent such attacks in the future. In the Cole's case, the Pentagon commission reported, there was a communication breakdown between Mideast embassies and the region's U.S. military headquarters. The Cole did not even know that the U.S. embassy in Yemen was closed down at the time due to concerns about mob violence, The New York Times reported.

The Pentagon report proposed the military focus on predicting and preventing terrorist attacks and protecting military ships, troops and aircraft while en route. It also suggested increased support for intelligence gathering from human sources.

With a new Bush administration placing military support and preparedness as a top priority, there will be high expectations that the armed forces will be allowed to act in the U.S. security interest in the face of terrorist threats in the future. The rules of engagement in the case of the USS Cole reflect a level of trust in those who have proven themselves untrustworthy: Yemen was known to be a haven for terrorists, yet the Navy was stopping there in an effort to strengthen relations with the renegade state. Future rules of engagement in the region should reflect the reality of relations which may require at the very least heightened security in the form of firing an unwelcome warning shot or two. It may not seem politically correct, but then what is politically appropriate when you are faced with terrorists?


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