In October 2000, a 35-foot craft approached the U.S.S. Cole, docked in Aden Harbor, Yemen. Operated by two Saudi suicide terrorists, the small boat was packed with about 600 pounds of powerful explosives. Within minutes, the bombers triggered a blast that ripped through the metal hull of the 9,100-ton vessel, a U.S. Navy destroyer. The explosion killed seventeen American sailors and inured thirty-nine others. It was powerful enough to rattle buildings surrounding the port. While responsibility for the attacks was initially unclear, law enforcement agencies eventually traced them to Osama bin Laden, who, according to the 9/11 Commission, directly supervised, helped plan, and funded the operation.
Immediately after the U.S.S. Cole attack, the Clinton administration assigned high priority to counterterrorism cooperation in Yemen. After 9/11, U.S. policy focused on special operations missions in Yemen to help track and capture or kill al Qaeda suspects. U.S.-Yemeni intelligence prompted a 2002 U.S. missile strike in Yemen that blew up a car occupied by a top al Qaeda leader. Yemen received U.S. security assistance, including funding to help rebuild its coast guard and monitor land borders, as well as financial and operational support for Yemeni special operations and other military forces, which resulted in numerous arrests.