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'Scapegoat' captain of USS Cole lashes out

London Telegraph / Francis Harris | August 30 2006

The captain of the USS Cole, who saved his ship from sinking after an al-Qa'eda suicide attack by speedboat, has lashed out at senior Pentagon staff blocking his promotion because of allegations that he could have done more to protect the ship.

Commander Kirk Lippold, who now serves behind a desk at the Pentagon, accused the head of the navy, Admiral Mike Mullen, and the navy secretary of "over-riding the judgment" of officers who had recommended his promotion.

He complained he was the only officer being held to account for the attack in Aden harbour six years ago. The Cole had gone to Aden despite a recognition that terrorists were active in Yemen.

advertisementRelatives of the Cole's dead, and many serving and retired American sailors, have criticised the Pentagon's decision, arguing that Cdr Lippold had been made a scapegoat.

The blast killed 17 American seamen and blew a 40ft hole in the guided-missile destroyer. It was al-Qa'eda's last major operation before the September 11 atrocities.

"I am extremely disappointed by the about-face on the part of navy leadership," Cdr Lippold told Navy Times. "The (official inquiry) findings still stand, that nothing I could have done as commanding officer would have prevented the attack or its results."

Navy secretary Donald Winter said he had decided that Cdr Lippold's actions in Aden "did not meet the high standard expected of commanding officers".

But the decision was criticised by commentators, who argued that the navy was bending to the views of a single senator, John Warner, who chairs the powerful armed services committee.

Mr Warner argued that he is not opposed to the promotion, but promised a public hearing on the attack if the commander's name was formally placed before his committee.

He once complained that "not a single disciplinary action of any kind was taken".

 

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