Lessons From The USS Cole Bombing

Coal mine worker Harald Kraps looks at a photographer after finishing work at the coal mine in Voerde, western Germany, Monday Jan. 29, 2007. The German government is discussing a proposal to stop the expensive mining of black coal in Germany.
AP Photo/Frank Augstein
A special commission appointed by Defense Secretary William Cohen after the terrorist attack on the USS Cole will recommend that the United States improve its intelligence about Middle East terrorist threats, officials familiar with the panel's deliberations said.

The panel is expected to present its findings and recommendations to Cohen next week. Cohen created the group to identify "lessons learned" from the Cole bombing to minimize chances of similar attacks in the future.

The panel will recommend that the government act to improve the intelligence system, particularly its use of human sources, to provide advance indications of threats to U.S. troops transiting the Middle East, two officials said Tuesday. The officials discussed the matter on condition they not be identified.

For security reasons, some of the panel's recommendations will not be made public, the officials said.

One said the panel will tell Cohen that terrorist threats probably will remain a major problem and that the United States should be more proactive in addressing the problem in remote areas like Yemen, where the Navy destroyer USS Cole was attacked.

There was no specific intelligence warning of a terrorist threat to the Cole, which was attacked as it refueled in Aden harbor on Oct. 12. A small boat sidled up to the Cole, and explosives it carried were detonated without warning. The blast tore a hole 40 feet high and 40 feet wide in the destroyer's hull and killed 17 sailors. Members of the Cole crew who saw the boat approach assumed it was a harmless harbor craft.

In light of the Cole attack, Cohen appointed a commission to review procedures in place to protect American forces transiting the Middle East, not only ships in port but also military planes at airfields.

The commission is headed by retired Army Gen. William W. Crouch, a former commander of U.S. Army forces in Europe, and retired Adm. Harold W. Gehman, a former commander in chief of the U.S. Joint Forces Command. The two men went aboard the crippled Cole in late October while it was still in Aden harbor.

The New York Times reported Tuesday that the Crouch-Gehman panel found a breakdown in communication between embassies and the U.S. Central Command, the Florida-based organization responsible for U.S. military operations in the Persian Gulf area. Arrangements for the Cole's refueling stop in Aden were made by the U.S. Embassy in Yemen.

In that Saudi peninsula country, meanwhile, a Yemen government security official and Western diplomats said Tuesday the United States has offered to help Yemen upgrade coastal security to try to curb arms smuggling and prevent attacks on ships.

The U.S. Navy has not used Aden as a refueling stop since the Cole episode but has not ruled out future visits.

In appointing the Crouch-Gehman panel, Cohen sought not only a review of the effectiveness of security measures already in place for U.S. troop in the Middle East but also recommendations for additional measures.

The Crouch-Gehman panel will tell Cohen that troop protection measures taken after a 1996 terrorist attack on a U.S. Air Force housing complex in Saudi Arabia have been effective, the administration official said.

The measures taken after the 1996 attack, which killed 19 U.S. Air Force troops, were designed for established U.S. military facilities. Cohen asked Crouch and Gehman to recommend improvements in a different troublesome area: security for U.S. troops transiting remote places like Aden, where the support system is less well established.

The Crouch-Gehman panel did not attempt to determine who was behind the attack on the Cole or assess whether the Cole's commander or other U.S. military officers should be held accountable for the loss of life. The FBI is trying to identify the attackers, and the Navy is investigating the actions of the Cole's crew.

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