UPI Analysis: Attack on US Destroyer in Yemen

greenspun.com : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

UPI ANALYSIS Thursday, 12 October 2000 17:42 (ET)

UPI ANALYSIS By MARTIN SIEFF, UPI senior news analyst

WASHINGTON, Oct. 12 (UPI) -- The deadly attack Thursday against the Arleigh Burke class destroyer USS Cole in the Red Sea port city of Aden raises specters old and new for the U.S. Navy and the security of America's vast financial, energy and diplomatic interest in the Middle East.

First and most worryingly, it gave the strongest indication that the rapidly escalating crisis between Israel and the Palestinians was finally spilling over into terror attacks against U.S. targets in the region. And where a "hard" military target like the Cole could be attacked first, "soft" civilian targets like U.S. embassies or businessmen and tourists in the region would not be far behind.

So far, no terror group had claimed responsibility for the attack. But its timing, coming as the Israeli-Palestinian clashes entered their third week, with 97 dead so far - 90 of the Palestinians or Israeli Arabs, gives a strong message all by itself.

The nature of the attack was also a grim reminder of the power of so-called asymmetrical warfare, a lesson also being learned by the superbly equipped but strategically bewildered Israelis confronting popular Palestinian rage with superb equipment and firepower but also the blunt and ineffective use of military force.

Arleigh Burke class warships remain, for their tonnage, the most powerful and hi-tech warships in the world. The nearest equivalent to them is probably the Russian Sovremenny class destroyers, which have the firepower to potentially hunt and kill U.S. aircraft carriers. But Arleigh Burke warships like the Cole have not seen anything remotely like combat conditions since the 1991 Gulf War. And that conflict, from the point of view of the U.S. armed forces, was a highly misleading little "perfect war" where the enemy was able to mount no strategic or tactical surprises and where U.S. warships were never remotely threatened.

Arleigh Burke class ships were designed for classic blue water oceanic confrontations with the old Soviet Navy or to shoot out of the air numerous but technically inferior air forces of countries like Iraq and Iran. The Cole's crew was certainly trained to keep watch and be on the alert against saboteurs in ports like Aden, and presumably security was routinely tightened because of the escalating tensions in the Middle East. But also, equally clearly, no one seriously envisaged the kind of effective, extremely low-tech attack, that was actually launched. It was the first of its kind. But it is highly unlikely to be the last.

The attack ironically underlined a little-noted strategic anomaly. Currently, and over the past three decades, the Middle East has been the most important region in the world for the U.S. Navy to strategically project power and it has, in fact, effectively done so. But the admirals who command the Navy have never been at all happy with having to do this.

They would be only too happy if America's growing reliance on imported Persian Gulf-produced crude oil could be replaced by other sources on the Atlantic Ocean such as Venezuela, Nigeria and Angola. That is because the U.S. Navy has traditionally been a "blue water", deep ocean Navy. Its equipment, tactics and strategic doctrine have - ever since the days of President Theodore Roosevelt, a friend and disciple of the brilliant naval strategist Admiral Alfred Thayer Mahan, a century ago - concentrated on dominating the oceans of the world.

In World War II, although the U.S. Navy cooperated with Britain's Royal Navy in supporting the successful serious of amphibious invasions that culminated in D-Day on June, 1944, their overwhelming experience was in fighting and eventually destroying the Imperial Japanese Navy in the broad expanses of the Pacific Ocean.

The U.S. Navy in World War II never had to face the costly and tactically challenging problem that Britain's Royal Navy did in the Mediterranean Sea. In its 1940-42 campaigns, the British Navy had to maintain command of the sea in a narrow, relatively shallow and enclosed body of water easily within reach of land-based aircraft and light tactical sea-borne attacks.

But in the more than a half century since that conflict, the U.S. Navy has been dominated by so-called "carrier admirals", many of them former aviators. Its other dominant leadership cadre has come from the nuclear submarine surface. The security and tactical problems of maintaining command of small, largely enclosed seas like the Mediterranean, the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf were largely ignored.

Recently, a new tactical doctrine emphasizing the importance of sea-based close support for land operations has been promulgated, but many serving naval officers remain skeptical as to whether it will have much of an impact beyond good intentions.

The low-tech attack on the Cole caused only relatively light casualties. But it served sobering notice that the tactical and security issues confronting the U.S. Navy in the Middle East are very different from those it has been used to - and even reveled in - the broad expanses of the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic Oceans. Unfortunately, those new problems are not going to go away.

-- Carl Jenkins (Somewherepress@aol.com), October 12, 2000




-- Carl Jenkins (Somewherepress@aol.com), October 12, 2000.

Moderation questions? read the FAQ