Since September 11, 2001 terrorism has been a front-running issue in the United States and, in reality, all over the world. About a year prior, on October 12, 2000, Islamic Fundamentalist terrorists attacked the U.S.S. Cole while it was visiting Aden, Yemen for a brief stop for fuel (BSF) during its 2000 Western Pacific Deployment (Historian, 2004). This attack killed 17 sailors and injured 39 others. The explosives detonated outside the hull precisely at the galley/messdecks where the crew was lining up for lunch (Sageman, 2008).
In February 1998, Osama bin Laden issued and endorsed a fatwah, or Islamic Rule of Law, under the banner of the "International Islamic Front for Jihad on Jews and the Crusaders." The fatwah was published in the pan-Arab daily newspaper Al-Quds al-'Arabi on February 23, 1998, stating that Muslims should kill Americans—including civilians—anywhere in the world where they can be found (United States vs. Jamal al Badawi and Fahd al Quso, 2003).
The planning for the attack began in Spring 1999. Tafiq Muhammed Saleh bin Roshayd bin Attash, a.k.a. "Khallad," delivered a letter to Jamal aal Badawi in Yemen enlisting him to assist Abd al-Rahim al-Nishri in an operation (United States vs. Jamal al Badawi and Fahd al Quso, 2003). It is widely believed that Jamal al Badawi was the chief coordinator in Yemen.
In summer of 1999, Badawi and Nashiri located and leased a property in the Madinat al Sha'ab area in Aden, Yemen, for an initial six-month term. Around this time Nashiri also directed Badawi to locate and procure a boat and a truck to tow said boat to Aden Harbor (Mockaitis, 2007). Nashiri also requested that the landlord of the Madinat al Sha'ab property install a gate in the entrance to the wall surrounding the property so that they could store and secure a boat there (United States vs. Jamal al Badawi and Fahd al Quso, 2003). In accordance with Nashiri's requests, Badawi, by the fall of 1999, secured a white boat with a red velvet deck cover within the premises of their rented property in Madinat al Sha'ab (United States vs. Jamal al Badawi and Fahd al Quso, 2003). In the fall of 1999, Nashiri and others transported explosives from Sa'dah, Yemen, to their property in Madinat al Sha'ab in a 1979 Shaus truck (United States vs. Jamal al Badawi and Fahd al Quso, 2003). On January 3, 2000, Nashiri and others transported the previously purchased boat, now laden with explosives, from the Madina al Sha'ab location to the Aden Harbor and launched it to attack the U.S.S. The Sullivans (DDG-68), which was refueling in the harbor. Luckily for the officers and crew of that ship, the explosives-laden boat sank in the harbor within sight of the ship. On January 4, 2000, Nashiri and others returned to the beach area of the Aden Harbor to recover the sunken boat and explosives. After the aborted attack on The Sullivans, Badawi and Nashiri discussed the ongoing plot to drive American forces from the Arabian peninsula by complying with bin Laden's edicts and attacking a United States naval vessel (United States vs. Jamal al Badawi and Fahd al Quso, 2003).
Later in January 2000, having shaven and donned western clothing to avoid attracting suspicion from law enforcement, Fahd al Quso and Ibrahim Al-Thawar traveled to Bangkok, Thailand, to meet with Khallad. Al-Thawar would later become one of the suicide bombers that perpetrated the actual attack on the U.S.S. Cole. They delivered approximately $36,000 to Khallad when they arrived in Bangkok (United States vs. Jamal al Badawi and Fahd al Quso, 2003).
During the summer of 2000, the other suicide bomber, Hassan Awadh Al-Khamri, leased a safehouse in the Al-Burayqat Kud Al-Namer area of Aden. He also leased an apartment perched in the hills of the Al-Tawahi area of Aden overlooking Aden Harbor where U.S. ships routinely berthed for fuel (United States vs. Jamal al Badawi and Fahd al Quso, 2003).
In the spring and summer of 2000, Khallad and Nashiri met with bin Laden in Qandahar, Afghanistan. Nashiri and several others also tested explosives at an al-Qaeda training camp during this time period. Upon Nashiri's return to Aden, he and others successfully tested the explosives that had sunk during the attempted attack on The Sullivans in January 2000. Upon successful testing, Nashiri and others refitted the boat that sank in January 2000 to strengthen the hull and increase the number of fuel tanks (United States vs. Jamal al Badawi and Fahd al Quso, 2003).
Departing Norfolk, Virginia, on August 8, 2000, for a Western Pacific Deployment, or WESTPAC (Lumpkin, 2006), the Cole was heading east under command of U.S. Navy Cmdr. Kirk S. Lippold, stopping in Aden, Yemen, for a BSF. Prior to pulling in, the Cole received the NCIS port security assessment, which gave Yemen a "high" threat level, the fourth highest of a five-level threat alert system (Lumpkin, 2006). It can be reasonably assumed that Nashiri and/or Badawi received intelligence about the date that U.S.S. Cole would be entering port for fuel (Lumpkin, 2006).
In September or October 2000, Badawi enlisted and trained Quso to film the proposed attack on a United States naval vessel from the Tawahi apartment. He also provided him a pager and advised him that he would receive a predetermined code on the pager that indicated an imminent attack on the naval ship and that he should depart for the Tawahi apartment to begin filming (United States vs. Jamal al Badawi and Fahd al Quso, 2003).
At various times throughout the planning process of this attack, Khallad traveled between Afghanistan and Yemen to engage in activities and coordination on behalf of al-Qaeda. In late September or early October 2000, Osama bin Laden arranged for Khallad to return to Afghanistan from Yemen (United States vs. Jamal al Badawi and Fahd al Quso, 2003).
Day of the Attack
On the morning of October 12, 2000, Ibrahim Al-Thawar and Hassan Awadh Al-Khamri launched the 35-foot boat, laden with the explosives TNT and RDX, from the trailer on a truck at the Al-Burayqat Kud Al-Namer location in Aden Harbor. At about 11 a.m., Quso departed his residence in Aden for the apartment in Tawahi after receiving the predetermined code on his pager purchased by Badawi. Around that same time Al-Khamri and Al-Thawar boarded the boat in Aden harbor and launched in the direction of the Cole, which was berthed and refueling in Aden Harbor (United States vs. Jamal al Badawi and Fahd al Quso, 2003).
Approximately 22 minutes later, Al-Khamri and Al-Thawar approached the U.S.S. Cole, which was being serviced at the pier, offered friendly gestures to several crew members, and came up right alongside port side midships. They detonated the explosives, ripping a hole approximately 40 feet in diameter in the side of the Cole, murdering 17 crew members and wounding at least 40 others (United States vs. Jamal al Badawi and Fahd al Quso, 2003). Al-Khamri and Al-Thawar also died in the attack.
At the time, it was speculated that over 1,000 pounds of explosives were used. Divers inspected the hull of the ship and determined that the keel was not damaged. The crew fought flooding and damage to engineering spaces, getting the damage under control by early evening. Shortly after the attack, Badawi contacted Quso and requested that he retrieve and conceal the car and trailer used to tow the explosives-laden boat to Aden Harbor (United States vs. Jamal al Badawi and Fahd al Quso, 2003).
The first naval ship on the scene to assist the Cole was H.M.S. Marlborough, a type 23 Royal Navy Frigate. She sent medical and damage control teams to Cole and assisted in all rescue efforts. Injured sailors were sent to a U.S. military hospital in Germany. U.S.S. Donald Cook and U.S.S. Hawes, both U.S. Navy Oliver Hazard Perry FFG-7 class ships, arrived shortly thereafter to provide repair and logistical support. U.S.S. ships Catawba, Camden, Anchorage, Duluth, and Tarawa arrived in Aden a few days later to provide watch relief, harbor security, damage control equipment, billeting, and food service for the officers and crew of Cole.
Ten days after the attack, on October 22, 2000, M.V. Blue Marlin towed Cole to Pascagoula, Mississippi, arriving on December 24, 2000. The day they were supposed to leave Aden under tow, Capt. Lippold ordered a medley of patriotic songs to be played as the crew stood at attention. The first song to be played was the "Star Spangled Banner." Then, to the captain's surprise, the loudspeakers began to blare "American Badass" by Kid Rock. He took one look at the executive officer and said, "Fix it." The XO ran off to find the crewmember responsible, then stopped and let the song of defiance and American pride play on for all the potential terrorists in Yemen to hear (Thomas & Squassoni, 2007). The damage from the attack took 18 months and $250 million to repair (Lumpkin, 2006).
A U.S. Navy investigation found that the ship's officers and crew failed to take a number of security measures that would have possibly prevented the attack (Lumpkin, 2006). Petty Officer John Washak said that right after the blast, a senior chief petty officer ordered him to turn an M-60 machine gun on the Cole's fantail away from a second small boat approaching. "With blood still on my face," he said, he was told: "That's the rules of engagement, no shooting unless we're shot at." He also stated, "In the military, it's like we're trained to hesitate now. If somebody had seen something wrong and shot, he probably would've been court-martialed" (Department of Defense, 2001). One of the other crewmembers stated that if the sentries had fired upon the suicide craft, "we would have gotten in more trouble for shooting two foreigners than losing 17 American sailors" (Cosmopolitan Magazine, 2001).
Several lessons were learned from the U.S.S. Cole bombing. I believe the most important of which is that regarding Anti-Terrorism/Force Protection (AT/FP) training be updated to a level that produces a unit that is clearly and visibly ready, alert, and capable of defending itself against terrorist attacks (Department of Defense, 2001). The level of competence with which units execute force protection must be the same level for which primary combat skills are executed; we must develop and resource credible deterrence standards, as well as deterrence specific tactics, techniques, and procedures; and defensive equipment packages (Department of Defense, 2001). First, we must get out of the purely defensive mode by proactively applying AT/FP techniques and assets to detect and deter terrorists. Second, transfer of transiting units between and within theaters must be better coordinated. Third, a discrete operation risk management model should be adopted and utilized in AT/FP planning and execution (Department of Defense, 2001).
The DoD Cole Commission Report resulted in several changes that the author has personally witnessed, been through, and taught during his tenure in the Navy. Anti-Terrorism and Force Protection is taken very seriously nowadays, and for good reason.
The Navy's Unit Level Training and Readiness Assessment (ULTRA) training program, described within the Surface Force Training Manual (SURFORTRAMAN) ensures that leadership at all afloat units maintains a self-assessment capability to train their crew. Anti-Terrorism Training Teams (ATTTs) are responsible for training the crew of each ship. Sailors are trained to recognize hostile intent, and if they feel that they, their shipmates, or their ship are being attacked, they will act to mitigate or eliminate the threat.
These measures, and other measures gleaned from the dynamic, constantly developing world of AT/FP have helped prevent another attack like the one that occurred on U.S.S Cole. Sailors, and others responsible for protection of assets whose destruction is attractive to terrorists, must remember to remain vigilant in order to remain hard targets and discourage attacks from those with ill intent. Physical security watches can be boring, and often seem routine, but complacency could mean the death of friends and family.
Cosmopolitan Magazine. (2001, September 1). I Survived a Terrorist Attack. Cosmopolitan Magazine.
Department of Defense. (2001). DoD U.S.S. Cole Commission Report. Washington D.C.: Department of Defense.
Gupta, D. K. (2005). Root Causes of Terrorism: Myths, Reality and Ways Forward. London: Routledge.
Historian, S. D. (2004, March). Significant Terrorist Incidents, 1961-2003: A Brief Chronology. Retrieved October 14, 2009, from State Department Web site: www.state.gov/r/pa/ho/pubs/fs/5902.htm
Lumpkin, J. (2006, October 11). U.S.S. Cole Bombing: Suicide Attack. Retrieved October 14, 2009, from GlobalSecurity.org: www.globalsecurity.org/profiles/uss_cole_bombing.htm
Mockaitis, T. R. (2007). The "New" Terrorism: Myths and Reality. Westport: Praeger Security International.
Sageman, M. (2008). Leaderless Jihad: Terror Networks in the Twenty-First Century. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
Sheehan, I. S. (2007). When Terrorism and Counterterrorism Clash. Youngstown: Cambria Press.
Thomas, E., & Squassoni, S. (2007, December 17). The Blast Claimed 17 lives and Crippled a Destroyer. The Inside Story of the Heroic Bid to Save the U.S.S. Cole. Newsweek. United States vs. Jamal al Badawi and Fahd al Quso, S12 98 Cr. 1023 (United States District Court Southern District of New York May 15, 2003).
About the Author
Shawn J. VanDiver, MS, CPP, CTT+, CHS-V, SSI, CDP-I, CMAS, CAS-PSM, holds the rank of Petty Officer Second Class in the United States Navy, operating in support of the Global War on Terror and the War on Drugs and providing sailors in his unit with force protection and anti-terrorism training. He previously served as a Assistant Emergency Management Coordinator, as well as the lead CPR Instructor, Assistant Safety Officer, and HAZMAT Coordinator for his division. VanDiver is currently attending AEGIS SPY-1B/B(V)/D school.