The Navy has completed its Judge Advocate General Manual (JAGMAN) investigation of the terrorist bombing of USS Cole while refueling in Aden, Yemen, Oct. 12, 2000. The investigation provides a comprehensive account of the actions taken onboard USS Cole before, during and after the terrorist attack that killed 17 sailors and wounded more than twice that number. JAGMAN investigations provide the Navy an effective means to gather the facts about what happened, determine "lessons learned" to help prevent future such incidents, and assess accountability of those involved as appropriate.
Chief of Naval Operations, Adm. Vern Clark, completed the JAGMAN investigation and agreed with the findings of the Commander in Chief, U.S. Atlantic Fleet, Adm. Robert Natter, that the commanding officer acted reasonably in adjusting his force protection posture based on his assessment of the situation that presented itself when USS Cole arrived in Aden to refuel.
"I found Adm. Natter's analysis to be both well-reasoned and convincing," Clark said, "and therefore agreed with his determination that the facts do not warrant any punitive action against the commanding officer or other members of Cole's crew."
In assessing the accountability of the commanding officer, the Navy essentially needed to answer two questions: Were the decisions made and the actions taken by the commanding officer reasonable and within the range of performance we expect of our commanders; and would any of the force protection measures not implemented by USS Cole have deterred or defeated this determined attack if they had been implemented. The conclusion of Natter - agreed to and supported by both the CNO and Secretary of the Navy Richard Danzig - is that the commanding officer's decisions were reasonable and appropriate under the circumstances, and that even perfect implementation of all force protection measures specified under Threat Condition Bravo would not have prevented or deterred this attack.
The JAGMAN also pointed to a number of significant "lessons learned" from the incident:
The Navy needs to do a better job of both training and equipping its ships to operate with reasonable risk in a high-threat environment.
Collective responsibility exists for oversight in pre-deployment training, threat awareness and in-theater support for entering new ports.
The Navy must -- and is -- taking force protection to a new level. The Secretary of the Navy's Task Force on Antiterrorism and Force Protection is already spearheading efforts to create a fundamentally improved force protection mindset throughout the Navy, and to challenge every assumption we make about how we conduct naval operations around the globe. Well-built ships with well-trained crews remain the key to survival, whether the battle is with other military forces or criminal terrorists.
Navy leadership also noted that the investigation underscored shortcomings throughout the network of commands, departments and agencies that provide support to U.S. Navy ships operating in foreign waters around the globe.
"The investigation clearly shows that the commanding officer of Cole did not have the specific intelligence, focused training, appropriate equipment or on-scene security support to effectively prevent or deter such a determined, preplanned assault on his ship," Clark said. "In short, the system - all of us - did not equip this Skipper for success in the environment he encountered in Aden harbor that fateful day."
Danzig underscored the importance of a thorough assessment of accountability in his review of the JAGMAN investigation.
"We must account for why 17 people under our charge died, and why many other people, material and interests within our responsibility have been injured," Danzig said. "In the process we cannot avoid our own responsibility for what the terrorists achieved. We owe it to those who suffer to provide the comfort of explanation, to the best of our abilities."
Note: An electronic copy of the redacted investigation is on the Web at http://www.foia.navy.mil/usscole/ .