After the USS Cole, a New Naval Reality in Gulf Encounters
In October of 2000, the USS Cole was steaming alone off the Horn of Africa and was critically low on fuel. Since there was not a replenishment ship in the Gulf of Aden region, the Cole was directed by the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet to make a brief stop for fuel in the Yemen port of Aden.
Shortly after mooring, a small zodiac approached the ship on the port side. Without warning there was an explosion amidships. The boat laden with over 220 kilograms of explosives had rammed the ship, ripping a 12-metre-square gash in the ship, killing 17 sailors and injuring dozens.
The crew of the Cole fought for the next 96 hours to keep the ship afloat. How could this possibly happen after the United States lost 241 service members in the Beirut Barracks bombing in 1983, and 19 service members in the Khobar Towers incident in Saudi Arabia in 1996? Did the U.S. fail to read the lessons or were there flawed rules of engagement to defend its forces?
The U.S. Department of Defense’s report on the Cole incident found that the Department had made significant progress in the protection of U.S. forces for installations, but the attack on the Cole “demonstrated a seam in the fabric of efforts to protect our forces, namely in-transit forces”.