Policy, Reality and the USS Cole

Amidst scenes of American dead being flown back from Yemen, critical

thinking seems distant amidst the bluster of government officials. The

families of the dead and wounded, as well as those military men and women

who continue to be placed in harms way, deserve better. Claims that the USS Cole incident was the result of an intelligence failure or logistical necessities are suspect. Gen. Anthony Zinni, former commander of U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf (also known as Central Command, or CENTCOM), assumed responsibility for moving refueling operations and testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee that the Yemeni port of Aden was the least vulnerable option--and thus essential to U.S. Persian Gulf operations. Nothing seems further from the truth.

What is stunningly obvious in reviewing the State Departments assessment of global terrorist threats, cited by Zinni, is that Yemen is a uniquely dangerous area, with multiple threats--including Palestinian, North African, and domestic terrorist groups--existing outside government-controlled areas.

Osama bin Laden claims involvement in bombings against U.S. forces moving through Aden en route to Somalia; incidents such as the December 1998 Mudiyah kidnapping and killing of Western tourists, as well as other threats against Western citizens in 1998 and 1999, highlighted the threat environment. Iraqi and pro-Palestinian sympathizers abound in Yemen, while

the potential for Iran to exploit heightened regional passions to disguise involvement in anti-U.S. operations is ever-present. These trends were conveyed to both CENTCOM and Embassy Sanaa long before the decision to use Aden as a refueling port was made.

Despite Zinnis testimony, the State Department assessment had not reported such a high level of risk for the port of Djibouti. Moreover, Djiboutis