Militant Killed in U.S. Airstrike Was Wanted for USS Cole Bombing

Nineteen years after the attack on a U.S. Navy guided missile destroyer, an Al Qaeda militant involved in the incident was killed in an airstrike.

USS Cole in Yemen Port
U.S. NavyGetty Images

The Pentagon says it just targeted and killed a member of the al Qaeda terrorist network who was involved in the 2000 attack on the USS Cole. Jamel Ahmed Mohammed Ali Al-Badawi was the target of the airstrike in Yemen.

That bombing killed 17 sailors and blew a hole in the side of the ship. The Cole nearly sank as a result of the explosion, but the U.S. Navy destroyer was brought back to the U.S. where it was repaired and still serves to this day.

On October 12, 2000, the USS Cole, an , was in the Yemeni port of Aden taking on fuel. The U.S. Navy began using Yemen as a refueling stop the year before. In all, , with two others stopping to make port visits and one to take on supplies. The U.S. Navy thus had established a pattern of activity there, with about a visit every other week. The stops were conducted despite the State Department’s characterization of Yemen in 2000 as a haven for terrorists.

Official US investigators patrol the area around t
USS Cole in Yemen harbor, October 20, 2000.
KHALED FAZAAGetty Images

At approximately 11:18 local time that day, a Zodiac-style boat filled with several hundred pounds of high explosives and manned by two suicide bombers approached the Cole and detonated the explosives next to the hull. The blast ripped a 40-foot hole in the hull at the waterline. Seventeen of the Cole’s sailors were killed in the blast, 39 were injured.

Despite the damage to the ship and the dangerous security situation, the Cole’s commander and crew managed to treat the wounded and stabilize the ship to prevent it from sinking. Nearby U.S. and Royal Navy warships to provide support and protect the ship from further attacks. On October 29, 2000, the heavy lift vessel M/V Blue Marlin loaded the Cole aboard for the trip back to the Huntington Ingalls Industries shipyard at Pascagoula, Mississippi. There, FBI bomb technicians and agents to analyze the damage.

Blue Marlin Brings Home USS Cole
M/V hauling USS Cole back to the United States.
USMCGetty Images

The U.S. Navy spent approximately $250 million to repair damage to the Cole. That restoration proved to be cost-effective compared to scrapping the ship, and also avoided sending the message to those responsible for the attack that they had all but sunk the ship.

After 14 months in dry dock, the ship on April 19, 2002. Up to 700 shipyard workers at a time were assigned to repair the ship. In the late 2000s, the Cole received upgrades to her Aegis Combat System, allowing it to participate in the ballistic missile defense mission.

Fast-forward to today. According to CNN, the airstrike that killed Jamel Ahmed Mohammed Ali Al-Badawi was a joint U.S. military and intelligence operation. Al-Badawi was reportedly driving alone in a vehicle at the time, and initial reports state that there was no one else killed in the operation. This suggests that Al-Badawi was under surveillance for a long period of time. The intelligence community likely used round-the-clock rotations of armed drones to keep him under observation, waiting for an opportunity to strike without civilian casualties.

Reaper Aircraft Flies Without Pilot From Creech AFB
MQ-9 Reaper loaded with Hellfire missiles and GBU-12 laser-guided bombs.
Ethan MillerGetty Images

The actual airstrike that killed Al-Badawi was likely carried out by the U.S. Air Force’s drone. The Reaper can carry AGM-114 Hellfire air-to-ground missiles, GBU-12 Paveway II 500-pound laser-guided bombs, and GBU-38 GPS-guided bombs. Another possibility is the use of the GBU-53 “Stormbreaker” bomb, which in addition to all-weather capability can hit moving targets—such as a terrorist wanted for murder driving a car or truck.

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