- The Washington Times - Monday, January 8, 2001

An objective review of the circumstances surrounding the terrorist attack on the USS Cole would clearly highlight the fact that the Cole had fallen into a predictable pattern of operations. This conclusion is based upon the following facts as we now know them from the press and other accounts.

In January 1999, threat levels for Aden had been changed from medium to high and remain so to date. Therefore, "high threat" levels became business as usual overtime.

Approximately 25 fueling stops have been made by U.S. Navy ships to the port of Aden over the past two years. The pattern of their brief fuel stops had been well-established prior to the Cole's arrival.

Rules of engagement in effect were questionable, i.e. "Don't Shoot Until Shot At," a terrorist formula for success.

During the first few port visits, harbor security craft, with armed Yemeni forces, were utilized to patrol around the U.S. Navy ship. After the first two visits were successfully completed, the requirement for harbor security craft was canceled.

Twelve days' advance notice of the Cole's brief fuel stop was required by the government of Yemen. Information on the refueling was then passed, by the government and/or the U.S. Embassy, to the oil refinery and port authorities, as well as the ship chandler providing supplies and other items.

Terrorists had ample opportunity to rehearse the attack. We now know that a previous attack was attempted on USS The Sullivans prior to the attack on the Cole. That attempt was aborted because the small inflatable boat being utilized began to sink due to the excess weight of the explosives it was carrying.

The Yemeni government does not exercise the type of control over the port of Aden that should give anyone comfort. Compounding this is the fact that the host nation is responsible for port security. After the 1983 Beirut Marine barracks bombing disaster, I formed an elite group of former SEAL Team Six professionals. They were called the Red Cell and were to act and think like terrorists to identify our glaring security weaknesses, which were many, and to recommend corrective action.

One of the first exercises conducted with the Red Cell in 1984 was exactly the scenario that was conducted by the terrorists against the Cole. We found out with the Red Cell, barring any human intelligence capability, that the only way to defeat such an attack was to utilize harbor security craft with highly-trained, armed personnel on board. Armed personnel aboard the target ship were clearly inadequate for a variety of reasons.

This terrorist operation was well-planned, rehearsed and probably known to a number of local Aden port authorities including, possibly, the harbor pilot that brought the Cole into port. At this point, it remains unclear who were the real sponsors of this attack. We had no clear indications of orders being given to the terrorist cell such as we did with the Beirut barracks bombing, in which we knew the orders came directly from the foreign ministry in Tehran to the Iranian ambassador in Damascus. The U.S. ambassador to Yemen, Barbara Bodine, was previously head of the State Department's counter-terrorist division and as such should have been sensitive to the limited central government control over the port of Aden.

While the current Israeli-Palestine flare-up apparently was not a factor in the terrorist attack on the Cole, representations should have been made to the Yemeni government to increase the port security measures in effect in Aden for the Cole's visit. As noted, the host nation has the responsibility for port security. Of course, for that matter, one has to ask what action did the U.S. Central Command, or the commander, U.S. Fifth Fleet, take with regard to enhancing port security for the Cole's fuel stop in Aden? Based on current press reports, it appears no increased security measures were requested by any of the above players and the Cole's brief fuel stop was looked upon as "business as usual." Ergo, USS Cole, her officers and crew, were "set-up" through no fault of their own.

Three courses of action are clear from the terrorists' attack. First, I believe we need to re-establish the Red Cell. Second, we need to give clearer direction with regard to the rules of engagement for our commanding officers, then have the guts to back them up. Third, we should not be deterred by the threat of terrorism from future port visits to Aden or anywhere else in the world where our flag must be shown.

Adm. James Ace Lyons is the former commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet.


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