Thursday, June 21, 2007

Official Inquiries Into The Iran UK Hostage Crisis Leave Much To Be Desired

The Iran UK hostage crisis of several weeks ago marked a low point for Britain - and a lower one for the EU. All was compounded when, in the wake of crisis, Britain's Naval Office authorized the former hostages to sell their stories to the media, an act normally reserved for people who have committed acts of bravery sufficient to win the UK's highest award, the Victoria Cross. That authorization was soon rescinded in a firestorm of protest. As a result of all that transpired, the government commissioned two inquiries, one on the hostage taking, the other on selling stories to the media.

As a threshold matter, Britain was short one inquiry. Britain should have commissioned a third inquiry into the actions of the EU to assess at a minimum the state of Britain's security relationship to the EU in light of every member state's complete refusal to help Britain in the conflict with Iran. To so soon forget that act of craven, short-sighted greed by the EU, and then to sweep it under the rug, does a tremendous disservice to Britain and allows a wholly dysfunctional EU to continue business as usual. Neither is acceptable.

Leaving that glaring omission aside for the moment, the results of the other two inquiries are in.

The first of these two inquiries looked into responsibility for the situation which ultimately led to the kidnapping. This from the EU Referendum:

Lt General Rob Fulton - former Commandant of the Royal Marines – came very highly recommended, and those who have seen his full report on the Iran hostages incident retain their opinion of him.

His report concludes that the events of 23 March were the result not of a single failure or any particular individual's human error, but rather of an unfortunate accumulation of factors - many relatively small when viewed in isolation - but which together placed our personnel in a position that could be exploited through a deliberate act by an unpredictable foreign state.

The Chief of the Defence Staff Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, adds to that, saying of the report:
…it does identify a number of weaknesses, including the coherence of strategic and operational direction within the coalition environment, the handling of intelligence, the development of doctrine and the conduct of training.
The authors of the EU Referendum blogspot find this acceptable. I have nothing but the highest regard for the authors of EU Referendum. The work that they do is absolutely first rate. But in this instance, I think that they are much in error. I do not believe that the public should accept the Fulton Report as presented for several reasons.

One, the entire report has been held classified and not subject to release. I find it hard to believe that, in light of an event of this magnitude, the bulk of the inquiry and the results thereof could not be made public. While security considerations must be given priority, this was a national travesty, and to wholly black out the entire report does not satisfy the government's duty to its people or its soldiers.

Two, it is hard for me to believe, in light of all the facts now in the public domain, that at a minimum the Commander of the HMS Cornwall or officers under his command did not fail in their duty. There is no circumstance, nor any snowballing set of of circumstances, that make up for a commander allowing his troops to operate outside of support. This is not good news for the British military.

To put this in perspective, twice now there has been a similar occurrence with the US military in Iraq. In the first instance, three soldiers of the 101st Abn were left without support to man a checkpoint. They were kidnapped and killed. The company commander and platoon leader were relieved of dury. There has not been any media reports regarding the more recent incident, where the chain of command placed a group of eight soldiers from the 10th Mtn Division in an overwatch position 45 minutes away from support. That incident, just a few weeks ago, resulted in the deaths of six with two still believed held by al Qaeda. I would bet my life's saving that the officers in the chain of command with responsiblity for that decision have been relieved. Fair or not, competent of not, putting soldiers in that position is unforgivable.

It is the duty of officers in wartime to forsee contingencies and shape circumstances, not to blithely use circumstances as an excuse for the failure of basic responsibilities. And an officer's most basic responsibility is to provide reasonable security for his or her troops. Putting troops out to conduct operations without sufficient security and/or out of range of support is a complete failure of that responsibility. That is not negotiable. That is not subject to amelioraton by an "accumulation of errors." Officers who have committed that sin should be relieved of command not merely because there is a queston of their competence, but more importantly to tell the soldiers and other officers that the military will not tolerate the loss of soldiers arising out of an officer's lack of foresight or aggressive leadership. Those latter reasons should not in any circumstance be underestimated. Britain's failure to hold any officers responsible for this travesty has to have some effect on the trust of troops for their commanders. In such circumstance allowing officers merely to have their discipline meted out in subtle ways below the radar, as suggested in the EU Referendum, is insufficient.

Three, the former First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Alan West, said:
British rules of engagement were "very much de-escalatory, because we don't want wars starting ... Rather than roaring into action and sinking everything in sight we try to step back and that, of course, is why our chaps were, in effect, able to be captured and taken away."
And the current First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Jonathon Band, suspended boarding operations after the kidnapping and then defended all of the actions of the crew both in surrendering without a fight and their less then military conduct while in captivity. These are the people who have risen to the top of Britain's military. And it wasn't all that long ago that General Sir Richard Dannatt, Britain's Chief of Staff, took it upon himself to give interviews wherein he urged that the British disengage from Iraq. I am sure all three of these officers have at least a fine a reputation as does LTG Fulton. But after all of the above mentioned revelations, you will excuse me if I remain cynical and somewhat less then trusting about the judgment of the current crop of senior British military leaders - at least in the absence of a redacted report. The public deserves such a report. Much more importantly, the soldiers in Britain's military deserve it.

The second inquiry, the Hall Report, was into how and when members of the military should be allowed to sell their stories to the media. The Hall Report's recommendation is wholly appropriate:
60. We . . . recommend that, for the future, serving personnel (both military and civilian) should not accept payments for talking to the media or the public about their work. There should be no exceptions to this rule. The acceptance of payments from the media offended the public and their view of the special place of the Armed Forces in British life. And it also ran contrary to what the Armed Forces believe they stand for: the team versus the individual, and selfless service on behalf of the nation. That the decision to accept payment caused such anger and concern was entirely understandable.
Interestingly, while the Hall Report annunciates an iron clad rule in this paragraph, they recognize very narrow categories of excpetions in succeeding paragraphs. Regardless, the exceptions seem well thought out. But, ominously, the Hall Report goes beyond the mandate to review when it is appropriate for a serving member of the military to talk with the media for payment and into regulation of all unpaid communications with the public or the media through blogs and the like:
67. Finally, as our report made clear at the beginning, the media environment has changed enormously since the Falklands War. It is changing again at a speed that is vertiginous. We have heard, in the course of our review, of cases where the release of information inadvertently led to risks to operations and individuals, and the proliferation of technology, and extension of media access to operations, set out above clearly means that the potential for further such cases is, if anything, increasing. For that reason, we think that urgent consideration needs to be given to policies dealing with the use of mobile phones, the video capacity of mobile phones, and the use of blogs, emails and social networking sites. We have been told that work in this area is already underway. Given the rise of the “citizen journalist”, the implications need to be thought through as a priority.
Lastly, while the government response in the wake of the Iran UK hostage taking has been been questionable, such is not the case with the response of the rank and file military. The Army's response to the performance of their brethern in the Navy and Marines has not only been apropriate, but melodious:
The government report into the captured British sailors has revealed that no-one is to blame and no disciplinary action will be taken!

That's not the verdict of the Army. Last month the Army played the Navy at football. They came prepared with their own special song.

To the tune of 'What shall we do with a drunken sailor'

What shall we do with the captured sailors?
What shall we do with the captured sailors?
What shall we do with the captured sailors?
Ear-lye in the morning

Ooh'ray and Faye is gopping (ed- 'gopping' apparently means 'ugly')
Ooh'ray and Faye is gopping
Ooh'ray and Faye is gopping
Ear-lye in the morning

Take away his ipod and make him blubber
Take away his ipod and make him blubber
Take away his ipod and make him blubber
Ear-lye in the morning

Put him in a suit and make him smile
Put him in a suit and make him smile
Put him in a suit and make him smile
Ear-lye in the morning

Give 'em forty grand and hear them snivel
Give 'em forty grand and hear them snivel
Give 'em forty grand and hear them snivel
Ear-lye in the morning

Give him an alcopop and watch him dribble
Give him an alcopop and watch him dribble
Give him an alcopop and watch him dribble
Ear-lye in the morning

Send the ugly bint right back to tehran
Send the ugly bint right back to tehran
Send the ugly bint right back to tehran
Ear-lye in the morning

Put them on the telly smoking ciggies
Put them on the telly smoking ciggies
Put them on the telly smoking ciggies
Ear-lye in the morning
Compliments of Pommygranate with a Hat Tip to Bill

3 comments:

Chuck Unsworth said...

A few passing comments:

It's not (entirely) clear whether the personnel who sold their stories did so with the permission of the Ministry of Defence - and, in particular, the senior Navy command. However it is the case that permission was given for their stories to be printed and for them to talk to the press. I suspect that there was a degree of collusion nonetheless. I would regard the 'sale' as a separate issue.

Probably many in Britain would agree with the comments about the lack of official EU support. But it is worth mentioning that some EU countries are supporting the efforts in both Afghanistan and Iraq. Then again, Britain has learned over many years of grim and bitter experience not to expect too much from those on the other side of the English (and Irish) Channel.

It's my view that the EU is not wholly dysfunctional. In fact it has been a roaring success. Whether that has actually benefitted anyone apart from its ministers, officials and their various cronies is another discussion entirely. However, many in the UK regard the EU as a dangerous encumbrance.

The Fulton report (and his exact Terms of Reference) should be published in full. There are precious few security considerations which are of real concern here. I do not believe that Fulton was expected to make recommendations, but he was certainly asked to carry out an investigation. The question there is, into what, exactly? So far we have merely had observations about the content of the report from various others, such as Stirrup, West, Band and others. Perhaps we should be allowed to judge for ourselves. In any event, it is not British soldiers who will benefit from this, but Britsh sailors. It's my information that the sole Marine involved was under Naval command.

Dannatt's position is slightly different. As I understand things he does not feel that he has sufficient resource to continue fighting in two separate theatres at this level of committment. It seems, too, that he's not convinced that a victory can be achieved. That may well be so, as how does one define 'victory' in either country? Given a military imposition of stability (and that is not looking too good at present), what process thereafter is planned to lead to complete withdrawal and at what cost over what period of time? Britain does not have that kind of cash, nor does it have that kind of motivation.

Finally, given the lack of resource and limited numbers of personnel (and this might support the Dannatt view), if our wrongdoers are indeed to be suspended from duty, we may no longer be able to field an army or send a navy to sea.

billm99uk said...

Thanks, Scott - it's interesting to see how someone with some military experience (if in a slightly different culture) sees this. The strange thing is the Royal Navy has always had the reputation of being, if anything, far too ready to Court Martial its officers. A lot of the British news reports on this issue lead off with the famous Voltaire quote of how the British like to shoot an Admiral every now and again "pour encourager les autres". This was originally inspired by the execution by firing squad of Admiral John Byng in 1757 for nothing more than following the orders of his superiors. And it's not just a historical vice either. I was reading only a few weeks ago about the court martial of the captain of the British cruiser HMS Manchester, sunk by Italian Torpedo boats in 1942, despite many reports by his crew that he'd done everything possible to save the ship.

I guess things have changed now. Personally I blame America (no, seriously!). Britain tends to get most bad American ideas about ten years late and half as strong (the good ones mostly seem to pass by us entirely!) and we're just catching up with Oprah/Geraldo style confessional talk show culture. I've got no great nostalgia for the whole "stiff upper lip" thing but, really, this was probably taking things a bit too far.

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