The USS Cole Bombing: An In-depth Retrospective 23 Years Later


Twenty-three years have passed since the USS Cole, an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, was attacked during a refueling stop in Aden, Yemen. The tragic event on October 12, 2000, left 17 U.S. sailors dead and nearly 40 others wounded. This comprehensive analysis revisits the attack, the subsequent investigations, and its enduring ramifications for U.S. military and global counter-terrorism efforts.

USS Cole: Vital Statistics

• Commission Date: June 8, 1996
• Class: Arleigh Burke-class
• Length: 505 feet
• Beam: 66 feet
• Crew: Approximately 340
• Armament: Various, including Tomahawk missiles and anti-submarine rockets.

The 17 U.S. sailors who tragically lost their lives in the USS Cole bombing

The 17 U.S. sailors who tragically lost their lives in the USS Cole bombing, along with their ages at the time:

1. Hull Maintenance Technician 2nd Class Kenneth Eugene Clodfelter, 21
2. Electronics Technician Chief Petty Officer Richard Costelow, 35
3. Mess Management Specialist Seaman Lakeina Monique Francis, 19
4. Information Systems Technician Timothy Lee Gauna, 21
5. Signalman Seaman Apprentice Cherone Louis Gunn, 22
6. Seaman James Rodrick McDaniels, 19
7. Engineman 2nd Class Mark Ian Nieto, 24
8. Electronics Warfare Technician 2nd Class Ronald Scott Owens, 24
9. Seaman Apprentice Lakiba Nicole Palmer, 22
10. Fireman Apprentice Joshua Langdon Parlett, 19
11. Fireman Patrick Howard Roy, 19
12. Electronics Warfare Technician 1st Class Kevin Shawn Rux, 30
13. Mess Management Specialist 3rd Class Ronchester Manangan Santiago, 22
14. Operations Specialist 2nd Class Timothy Lamont Saunders, 32
15. Fireman Gary Graham Swenchonis Jr., 26
16. Ensign Andrew Triplett, 31
17. Seaman Apprentice Craig Bryan Wibberley, 19

The Events of the Day

The USS Cole had stopped in Aden for what was supposed to be a routine refueling. As it was docked, a small, rigid-hull inflatable boat (RHIB) approached the ship. Two men on board gestured amiably to the Cole’s crew before detonating an estimated 400 to 700 pounds of C-4 explosives, tearing a 40-foot-wide hole near the waterline of the destroyer.

The Boat and the Attackers

The attackers utilized a nondescript RHIB, blending seamlessly with the port’s regular maritime activities. This inconspicuousness was calculated to minimize suspicion. The boat was laden with a significant amount of C-4, a stable yet highly effective plastic explosive. The two suicide bombers, members of al-Qaeda, had likely undergone rigorous training to carry out the mission with precision.

The Investigation

In the wake of the attack, the FBI dispatched over 100 agents from its Counterterrorism Division and other specialized units. Director Louis Freeh arrived in Yemen shortly after to oversee the investigation and liaise with Yemeni authorities. A cooperative agreement was signed between the U.S. State Department and the Yemeni government to facilitate the investigation.

Prior Attempts and Parallel Operations

Earlier in the same year, al-Qaeda had attempted to attack another U.S. naval vessel, the USS The Sullivans. However, the boat sank before the explosives could be detonated. This failure served as a grim prelude to the events involving the USS Cole.

Key Figures and Consequences

Several suspects were apprehended by Yemeni authorities by the end of 2000. Two of these, Jamal Muhammad Ahmad Al-Badawi and Fahad Muhammad Ahmad Al-Quso, were eventually killed in separate U.S. airstrikes. Currently, Tawfiq Mohummad bin Saleh bin Roshayed bin Attash is in U.S. custody, while Abdullah Al-Rimi remains wanted for questioning.

Legacy and Lessons

The USS Cole bombing dramatically reshaped U.S. military protocols, particularly during vulnerable operations like refueling. The tragedy served as a somber precursor to the 9/11 attacks and remains an essential case study in global counter-terrorism strategies.


The USS Cole bombing continues to resonate 23 years later as an event that transformed military practices and global counter-terrorism efforts. Understanding the multifaceted elements of the attack, from the boat and attackers to the international investigations, remains crucial for safeguarding future global security.

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