Retired US Top Brass Board USS Cole on Review Tour
A retired US army general and an admiral arrived in Aden on Saturday to look into how the guided missile destroyer USS Cole fell victim to suicide bombers who killed 17 sailors, diplomatic sources said.
Admiral Harold Gehman and General William Crouch are co-chairing the review into the circumstances leading to the explosion, immediately boarded the crippled hi-tech vessel in Aden harbor, said the sources.
They flew in accompanied by some 40 soldiers.
The October 12 attack has raised questions about why the Yemeni port was chosen for navy refueling stops and how a small boat managed to get close enough to the destroyer to blow a gaping hole in its side.
US Defense Secretary William Cohen named the two to head a panel to conduct a wide-ranging review of the "string of decisions" that led to the attack, the Pentagon said.
The panel is to recommend ways to improve the protection of US forces overseas, but was not designed to determine who was accountable for any security lapses.
It will also examine intelligence assessments, rules of engagement and operating rules for the Central Command, which spans from Egypt to Kenya.
Gehman headed the US Forces Command in Norfolk, Virginia until September, and Crouch is a former commander of US forces in Europe and vice chief of staff of the army.
The navy is conducting a separate investigation into whether proper procedures were followed on the Cole from the time it entered Aden port to when a small boat pulled alongside it and blew up.
The United States Friday urged Yemen to give its "full cooperation" in the inquiry, as FBI agents sought to interview suspects held in Yemen.
"We count on President (Ali Abdullah) Saleh's commitment of full cooperation as we move to the most critical aspects of this investigation," said US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) director Louis Freeh in a joint statement.
A US newspaper Friday said US intelligence agents have "hard evidence" that Saudi-born millionaire Osama bin Laden was behind the attack, which also left 38 US sailors injured.
USA Today reported that bin Laden financed the attack and sent one of his aides to supervise it. The daily cites anonymous sources to back up its assertion.
US officials however downplayed the report, and the FBI refused to confirm it -- ADEN (AFP)
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