USS Cole Guards Had No
Ammo - Reportedly Told
Not To Fire First

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The sailors on sentry duty aboard the USS Cole when it was bombed last month did not have ammunition in their guns and were not authorized to shoot unless fired upon, the Washington Post reported on Tuesday, citing recent interviews with 20 members of the ship's crew.
Even if the sentries had recognized the threat from a small boat approaching the guided missile destroyer in a Yemeni harbor on Oct. 12, their ``rules of engagement'' would have prevented them from firing without first obtaining permission from the Cole's captain or another officer, the paper quoted crew members as saying.
Seventeen sailors were killed and the Cole was severely damaged when a small boat laden with explosives blew up alongside the guided missile destroyer while it was refueling in the southern Yemeni port of Aden.
Witnesses had said two men were aboard the boat when it exploded and ripped a huge hole in the Cole's side.
Petty Officer John Washak told the Post that shortly after the small boat blew a 40-by-40-foot hole in the destroyer's side, killing 17 sailors, he was manning an M-60 machine gun on the Cole's fantail when a second small boat approached.
Washak said he pointed the machine gun directly at the boat to warn it off. But a senior chief petty officer ordered him to turn the gun away and said the rules were clear: ``That's the rules of engagement -- no shooting unless we're shot at.''
The Post said crew members said they had also been told by FBI investigators that the ship may have been boarded and surreptitiously surveyed by Islamic militants, possibly including one of the suicide bombers, as it passed through the Suez Canal a few days before the attack.
Paul Riddle, an operations specialist who worked in the Cole's combat information center, said FBI investigators told him that ``they think the Egyptians might have been doing a reconnaissance on us,'' according to the Post.
The FBI also has been questioning crew members about the behavior of the Yemeni pilot who guided the Cole into port, which some described as ``agitated.'' In addition, some crew members believe that Yemeni harbor workers acted suspiciously, according to the Post report.
The boat that exploded may first have attempted to tie up to the Cole's stern, then moved around to the side of the ship after being ordered away, the paper reported.
But the paper said crew members dwelt overwhelmingly in the limitations placed on their ability to defend the Cole, especially in the paradoxical situation of visiting a supposedly friendly port during a time of extreme tension in the Mideast.
When it sailed into Aden, the ship was operating under ''Threat Condition Bravo,'' the second-lowest on a scale of four threat conditions. Under this moderate posture, crew members said, the ship had a few guards on deck, but no one was posted on big machine guns near the bow and stern.
``It wasn't supposed to be a high-threat port,'' the Post quoted Nathan Bair, a fire controlman on the Cole, as saying.
The crew members said the threat from the small boat that allegedly carried the explosives was anything but apparent.
Crew members who saw it approaching said ``it looked like the boats that had assisted in the mooring'' of the Cole to a refueling station in the middle of the harbor, according to one crew member.
The Post quoted a Pentagon official as saying crew members were ordered to fire only warning shots because many boats approaching the ship after the blast came to offer help.

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