Cohen Says Cause of Blast That Damaged U.S. Ship Not Yet Certain

Naval chief says destroyer apparently was attacked by terrorists By Jacquelyn S. Porth Washington File Security Affairs Correspondent Defense Secretary William Cohen told reporters at the Pentagon October 12 that the cause of the explosion that killed five U.S. Navy sailors when it ripped open the steel hull of an American warship in the Yemeni port of Aden for refueling is not yet certain. But his Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Vern Clark, said the USS Cole was "apparently attacked by terrorists in a small boat" that was helping to moor the destroyer in advance of the refueling operation. He said there "is no reason to think that this was anything but a senseless act of terrorism" that resulted in the serious wounding of 36 crew members with another 12 reported as missing. If terrorists are found to have caused the blast, Cohen said, they will be tracked down and held accountable for "this vicious and cowardly act." He said no one should assume they can attack the United States "with impunity." The United States will continue to pursue its national interests in the Middle East and elsewhere around the world, the secretary said. "No one should doubt our resolve," he added. Asked by a reporter if the incident in Yemen is related to unrest in the Middle East, Cohen said there is no information to connect it. He was also asked about reports of new Iraqi troop movements in the western portion of the country, and he indicated that this is typically the time of year for an Iraqi military training cycle. "We are watching it very closely because of the ambiguity of the situation to make sure that Saddam (Hussein) is not using any training cycle to take advantage of any developments in the Middle East or elsewhere," the secretary added. Cohen said a team of bomb experts will investigate the nature of the explosive materials used against the Cole to make a determination about the cause of the blast. "If -- as it appears -- this was the act of terrorists, then we will certainly do everything in our power to track them down and hold them accountable," he said. The secretary said the alert status for all U.S. military forces worldwide has been increased following the October 12 incident in Yemen. In addition, he said U.S. security and medical teams have been sent to Aden. Cohen and Clark noted that British and French ships and a French aircraft also have been dispatched to join U.S. air and naval forces to provide additional assistance, including medical evacuation Clark, who briefed with Cohen, showed photographs of the gaping hole in the ship's hull at the waterline. The admiral said the damage from "a significant explosion" was concentrated in one of the main engine rooms and in an auxiliary engineering space of the ship, which was manned by a crew of around 350. At last report, he said, the Arleigh Burke destroyer was listing at only four degrees with flooding reportedly under control. Several reporters questioned the decision to fuel the ship in Yemen, but Clark said that refueling of U.S. ships in Aden began last year and that there had been three refueling operations since last May. He noted that the United States has been working for some time to improve its relations with Yemen. Clark also said it would not be realistic to send a designated "oiler" with a destroyer to refuel it en route to Bahrain. He reminded reporters that 101 U.S. Navy ships are deployed around the world and said insufficient resources are available to provide refueling vessels for all of them. The admiral relayed an eye-witness account of two men aboard a small boat standing at attention facing the USS Cole just before the blast. That ship had been assisting in the mooring operation and was not considered to be a threat. (The Washington File is distributed by the Office of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: