All Hail the USS Cole –It Has a Score to Settle

by Stephen Bryen

On 12 October 2000, while refueling in Aden port in Yemen, the USS Cole suffered a dastardly attack when a small fiberglass boat, stuffed with explosives and manned by two suicide bombers slammed into the Cole. The explosion at 11:18 AM that morning tore a 40 by 60 foot hole in the guided missile destroyer.  Many were killed or wounded: some 17 sailors dead and 39 injured.

The Cole, after emergency repairs and stabilization as well as accounting for those killed and wounded, was hauled two months later from Aden back to its home port in Pascagoula, Mississippi by a specially built semi-submersible Norwegian salvage ship.  There the Cole was rebuilt and brought back into active service.

USS Cole attacked in Aden in 2000

That was more than sixteen years ago.  Now President Trump has ordered the USS Cole to return to Yemen’s waters and to there operate off the Yemeni coast to protect the strategic Bab al-Mandeb strait from the Houthi militia aligned with Iran.  

The October 2000 attack on the Cole was an al-Qaeda operation, and al-Qaeda is alive and well in Yemen.  The Houthis, a lot like al-Qaeda except Shia not Sunni, are terrorists nonetheless.  While the U.S. has not engaged the Houthis or Iran directly, the recent attack on a smallish Saudi frigate near the Bab-al-Mandeb is thought to have been intended to be an attack on a U.S. warship, but the Houthis got the wrong target.

It is no secret that the United States has been assisting the legitimate Yemen government and Saudi Arabia, most probably by helping them refine their tactics and by providing intelligence and cover operations.  At the same time the CIA and US Special Forces have been operating against al-Qaeda in Yemen. Earlier, when the USS Mason was attacked last October by Houthi-launched but Iranian supplied missiles, the USS Nitze knocked out three Houthi coastal missile sites that were apparently used to attack the Mason.

The latest Houthi attack on the Saudi frigate was more successful because the Saudi vessel did not have adequate self defense systems such as those on the Mason and Nitze.

Now as the Cole positions itself along the Houthi-Iran occupation of strategic areas bordering the Bab al-Mandeb passageway, it will be interesting to see what happens next.

But make no mistake about it: the Cole, its captain and its crew, have a score to settle.  The Iranians and their Houthi friends, and any al-Qaeda guys lurking in the area, should be so advised.