Good Company

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Friday, February 29, 2008

Yeman and the Global War on Terror

Jane finds an article that questions Yemen's intentions here:
Increased U.S.-Yemen military relationship has been hotly debated between CENTCOM and Middle East specialists in Washington, primarily at the Defense Department. Former U.S. Ambassador to Yemen Barbara Bodine, an experienced Middle East specialist, supported these specialists’ view. As early as March of 2000, she recommended that the Navy not authorize ship visits to Aden. In fact, the State Department’s 2000 report on terrorism states that “lax and inefficient enforcement of security procedures and the government’s inability to exercise authority over remote areas of the country continued to make the country a safehaven for terrorist groups.”

Much of this concern was borne later that year with the October 12 attack on the USS Cole while refueling in the port of Aden. Given what we knew and the ambassador’s analysis, why was the ship in Yemen at all?

After the attack, former CENTCOM commander, retired Marine General Anthony Zinni, testified before Congressional committees that he had made the decision a few years earlier to use the Yemeni port for refueling U.S. Navy ships. Zinni stated that he was presented only with poor choices of refueling locations. This statement flies in the face of conventional wisdom - there are numerous safer refueling locations in the region - Abu Dhabi, Jebel Ali, Dubai, Fujayrah, and Muscat come to mind. When you add the fact that this particular ship had a range in excess of 4000 miles, the claim of the requirement to refuel in Aden loses credibility.

Although there is no doubt about the need to use more foreign ports due to cutbacks in military spending and the resultant loss of refueling ships to support underway replenishments, the USS Cole issue has more to do with politics than with logistics. The ship visits – including that of the USS Cole – to Aden were more of a misguided CENTCOM effort to show the flag and build the bilateral U.S.-Yemeni relationship than a valid logistical requirement. Of course, political expediency and military prudence do not always go hand in hand. It was a bad decision, one for which Zinni has never taken responsibility.

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