Friday, October 20, 2000

Gen. Crouch, Adm. Gehman
to head Cole inquiry

By Chuck Vinch
Washington bureau chief

WASHINGTON — Two former high-ranking U.S. officers will launch an independent inquiry into the security situation aboard the USS Cole when the ship was attacked by terrorists in the Yemeni port of Aden last week, officials said Thursday.

Adm. Harold Gehman, who retired this summer as head of the U.S. Joint Forces Command in Norfolk, Va., and Gen. William W. Crouch, who retired last year as the Army vice chief of staff, will lead the inquiry, Pentagon spokesman Ken Bacon said at a news briefing.

Crouch, who also is a former commander of U.S. Army Europe and chief of NATO’s Allied Land Forces Central Europe and commanded U.S.-led NATO peacekeepers in Bosnia in 1996-97, was selected partly because of his expertise in force protection measures, a focus of the Balkans mission.

Gehman saw extensive sea duty during his career, including tours in Vietnam and as commander of a destroyer. He later served as vice chief of naval operations, the second-highest military post in the Navy.

Defense Secretary William Cohen appointed Gehman and Crouch to head the panel and "distill lessons learned from the Cole tragedy," Bacon said. "They will look at all aspects of this tragedy so that we can improve our force protection and reduce the chances we will be subjected to another attack like this."

The investigation, which will run independently of the FBI’s probe, will examine the circumstances at the time of the Oct. 12 bombing in Aden and recommend ways that standard security precautions during visits to foreign ports can be improved, Bacon said.

"We will never have a perfect defense against terrorism, but we need to make our defense as good as they can be," Bacon said.

Gehman and Crouch are expected to be in Washington next week for preliminary briefings and to set up their panel’s staff.

In other Cole developments, Adm. Robert Natter, commander of the Atlantic Fleet, said on NBC’s Today show Thursday that he is confident those responsible for the attack will be found and must be punished. "There has been an attack on U.S. sovereign territory — a U.S. Navy warship," Natter said. "That’s sovereign territory. If we are going to defend ourselves, we have got to go on the attack."

He said he is "very pleased" with the Cole’s self-defense posture prior to the terrorist attack, but he declined to say whether he has seen any evidence of security lapses, leaving that determination to investigators.

U.S. officials say a small boat, which the Cole crew thought was there to help secure the destroyer’s mooring lines prior to its refueling, came alongside and detonated a bomb powerful enough to tear a hole 40 feet by 40 feet in the hull. Witnesses reported seeing two men in the small boat, who died instantly in the apparent suicide attack that killed 17 U.S. sailorsand injured 39.

The remains of five sailors have been returned to the United States, while eight more are en route from Bahrain aboard a C-141 aircraft and were scheduled to arrive at Dover Air Force Base, Del., on Friday, Bacon said.

The Cole will be moved from Aden for major repairs by a Norwegian-owned "heavy lift ship," a sort of floating dry dock that can carry ships weighing up to 30,000 tons. The unloaded Navy destroyer checks in at 8,300 tons.

The Cole will be brought back to Norfolk aboard the heavy lift ship and should arrive some time around the first week of November, Bacon said.