Facts of USS Cole Bombing Are "Under the Microscope," General Says
Franks says review will lead to better force protection
By Susan Ellis
Washington File Staff Writer
Washington - "We're determined to get to the bottom of this. We'll
put the events that led up to (the attack on the USS) Cole under the
microscope," General Tommy Franks, commander-in-chief (CINC) for the
U.S. Central Command (USCENTCOM), told the Senate Armed Services
Committee October 25.
The committee - continuing a series of hearings on the October 12 USS
Cole attack that aims to forestall such acts of terrorism in the
future - questioned several aspects of the event, including:
-- Why the disparity existed between times given for the bombing in
first and later accounts of the incident;
-- Why the ship was being refueled in a region the State Department
knew to be a "haven for terrorists," and whether diplomatic
considerations overtook force protection; and
-- The appropriateness of risk management procedures.
General Franks, the successor to General Anthony Zinni in the post of
CINC CENTCOM, said the military has already begun the fact-finding
process, and "We will find the facts we need to find and we'll use the
lessons that we learned...to provide the best possible force
protection for our troops in one of the most dangerous regions of the
The differences in times given for the bombing were attributed by
Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Walter Slocombe to the primacy
of protecting the crew and saving the ship, and after that "finding
out what happened."
Navy officials said October 20 that the ship's records place the
terrorist bomb blast at 11:18 a.m. Yemen time rather than 12:15 p.m.,
as the Navy initially reported. The officials said the Cole completed
mooring operations at 9 a.m. Refueling started at 10:30 a.m. and was
ongoing at the time of the attack.
Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Edward Walker
said there is "no higher priority for our diplomacy than the safety
and security of our troops and personnel serving overseas. We do not
put diplomatic relations above the lives of our people."
He said that from the beginning of the crisis his department has
worked "very closely with the Yemeni government and all concerned
agencies to facilitate relief efforts," adding "We have all received
the strongest assurance of Yemen's cooperation with the investigation
and by all accounts to date, their assurances have become reality on
Senator Carl Levin (Democrat, Michigan) said the decision to refuel
ships in Yemen was made by General Zinni who was "never overruled by
anybody...relative to force protection and security considerations.
While General Zinni favored building a closer relationship between the
United States and Yemen, diplomatic considerations were never placed
ahead of force protection in the security of our military personnel in
deciding to refuel in Yemen or anywhere else."
Franks said the decision on refueling in Yemen was based on
"operational as well as geo-strategic factors and included an
assessment of the terrorist and conventional threats in the region."
Aden was far from alone in being judged a dangerous port, he said,
adding that as of December 1998, "14 of the 20 countries in the
USCENTCOM AOR (Area of Responsibility) were characterized as 'High
To a suggestion by Committee Chairman Senator John Warner (Republican,
Virginia) that Djibouti might be safer, Franks responded in his
statement, "Djibouti, which had been the Navy refueling stop in the
Southern Red Sea for over a decade, began to deteriorate as a useful
port because of the Eritrea-Ethiopia war. This war caused increased
force protection concerns for our ships, as well as congestion in the
port resulting in operational delays. The judgment at this time was
that USCENTCOM needed to look for more refueling options, and Aden,
Yemen was seen as a viable alternative."
On the topic of risk management, Senator Levin asked Franks how long
it took the Marine anti-terrorism security team to arrive in Aden and
whether that "met the standard of response." Franks said that
"Immediately following the attack on the 12th of October, our naval
commander talked to me very early in the morning," saying that he
would place medical and security personnel, Department of Defense
personnel, a working dog team "and a variety of immediate responders
in the air within a very short period of time, and, in fact, in a
matter of hours, that security element was on the ground in Aden."
Senators interjected some additional questions. One concerned a
newspaper report, dated October 25, alleging that advanced warning of
an attack existed, and that the Cole should have received notice of
the warning from the National Security Agency, but did not. Slocombe
termed the report "highly questionable."
He responded to a question from Senator Jeff Sessions (Republican,
Alabama) on whether he had "any sense of embarrassment" that major
issues on the Cole attack were being released by the news media
instead of the military, saying "I certainly find it appalling that
someone has taken it upon themselves to release to the news media"
(the report on advance warning), but I make no apologies that we came
up here and gave the best information that we had at the time we had
it, and said that what we said was subject to review as the
information became available."
Another question centered on whether "human intelligence" (HUMINT) --
information gathered through personal contact - was lacking that
could have forewarned officials of the incident. General Zinni had
pointed that out in his previous testimony, said Senator Jack Reed
(Democrat, Rhode Island). Franks agreed that HUMINT was lacking and
that the issue would be taken up in a session closed to the public to
be held immediately afterward.
However, asked what steps would have been taken had the ship received
advanced warning of an attack, Franks said: "Our measures and our
readiness conditions would have been increased."
Slocombe added, "Information of that kind, if it had existed, which it
didn't, would have been disseminated on the 'most urgent' basis to all
the people who were potentially affected by it."
Franks, in describing USCENTCOM's mission, reiterated that priority
given to force protection is foremost. In addition to deterring
aggression, ensuring "uninterrupted access to regional resources and
markets," and countering "the proliferation of weapons of mass
destruction and other transnational threats," he said, "In carrying
out all aspects of our mission, force protection is a high priority,
recognizing that our mission, like that of all our military forces, is
an inherently dangerous one."
(The Washington File is a product of the Office of International
Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)