NORFOLK, Virginia – The USS Cole left port Thursday for its first Middle East deployment since a 2000 terrorist attack blew a hole in its side and killed 17 sailors.
The Cole, along with five other ships and a submarine, left the U.S. East Coast to conduct security operations in support of the war on terrorism.
A few hours before the Cole departed, crew members learned that Al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi had been killed in a U.S. air strike, Cole Cmdr. Bradley Roberson said.
"I think today's news shows that the struggle against terrorism is going to still continue on and be long. However, this is a path in the right direction," Roberson told "The Early Show" on CBS. "It shows that the troops over in Iraq are doing a great job, aided by the Iraqi people and things are going well."
The Cole had been refueling in Yemen's port of Aden on Oct. 12, 2000, when Al Qaeda-linked militants in a dinghy packed with explosives attacked. The explosion blew a hole in the side of the destroyer, but it remained above water and eventually underwent $250 million of repairs.
No sailors from the 2000 crew are still aboard the Cole. The crew of 320 that left Thursday is expected to be gone for six months, officials said.