Friday, March 30, 2007

The Past as Prologue

There's a backstory behind the US assertion that American troops would have fought if they had been in the same position as British soldiers who were taken in a cross-border raid by Iranian forces. Time Magazine reports a firefight last year between a joint US-Iraqi patrol that surprised an Iranian force in Iraqi Kurdistan. Some details are apparently still secret. But here's Time's account for whatever it is worth.

U.S. soldiers from the 5th Squadron 73rd Cavalry 82nd Airborne were accompanying Iraqi forces on a routine joint patrol along the border with Iran, about 75 miles east of Baghdad, when they spotted two Iranian soldiers retreating from Iraqi territory back into Iran. A moment later, U.S. and Iraqi forces came upon a third Iranian soldier on the Iraqi side of the border, who stood his ground. As U.S. and Iraqi soldiers approached the Iranian officer and began speaking with him, a platoon of Iranian soldiers appeared and moved to surround the coalition patrol, taking up positions on high ground. At that point, according to the Army's statement, the Iranian captain told the U.S. and Iraqi soldiers that if they tried to leave they would be fired on. Fearing abduction by the Iranians, U.S. troops moved to go anyway, and fighting broke out. Army officials say the Iranian troops fired first with small arms and rocket-propelled grenades, and that U.S. troops fell further back into Iraqi territory, while four Iraqi army soldiers, one interpreter and one Iraqi border guard remained in the hands of the Iranians.

The official release says there were no casualties among the Americans, and makes no mention of any on the Iranian side. U.S. soldiers present at the firefight, however, tell TIME that American forces killed at least one Iranian soldier who had been aiming a rocket-propelled grenade at their convoy of Humvees.

The unstated implication of the account was that the US-Iraqi forces were acting as unprovocatively as possible while maintaining their self-protection. By legal right, if Americans have any of that any more, they could have called down fires on the Iranians intruding on Iraq once they had been threatened in that way. As it was, they apparently defeated the Iranian force with organic weapons, though one wonders what became of the Iraqis who were taken by the Iranians.

According to some points of view, the very aggressiveness of Iran is precisely the reason it should be "engaged" diplomatically. However, it is probably the case that if the Americans in the Time story had not actively defended themselves, they would be prisoners in Teheran right now and not all the diplomats in the UN would be able to get them out.


Blogger wretchard said...

The EU will unleash "appropriate measures" on Iran unless 15 British sailors are freed, according to the Guardian.

3/30/2007 06:54:00 PM  
Blogger HouseofPolitics said...

Hmmmm, interesting phrase...

The past as a prologue...


3/30/2007 07:04:00 PM  
Blogger doolz said...

Unless "appropriate measures" are the dogs of war, then they are not the appropriate things to unleash.

3/30/2007 07:15:00 PM  
Blogger remoteman said...

The Iranians need a complete smackdown. The vacilation on the part of the western "elite" is ridiculous. Force is all that the savage animals who represent the leadership of Iran understand.

3/30/2007 07:29:00 PM  
Blogger wretchard said...

The UK is ready for a diplomatic attack on Iran.

3/30/2007 07:41:00 PM  
Blogger Al Reasin said...

We have for 3 years or so allowed Syria and Iran to provide fighters and weapons in support of the terrorists and the Ba’aths and religious insurgents. During this time the American Left’s political strategy has in effect supported our enemies’ goals and stymied the President’s war policy; both want to drive the US out of Iraq. President Bush is therefore perceived as impotent when it comes to additional foreign “adventures”.

The 1988 Tanker War waged by President Reagan should give the Iranians pause, but we took a while to determine our direction Prior to our entry into the tanker war, seemly only after the Gulf States urged us to patrol the Gulf in force to quiet both Iraq and Iran who were engaged in blocking each other’s oil exports, an estimated 546 commercial vessels were sunk or damaged and 430 civilian mariners were killed. President Bush’s recent change in tactics, including the seizing of over 300 Iranian agents inside Iraq and the leaking of the border skirmish described in your post, may have caused Iran some concern, but I suspect that the Iranians are trying to keep us and our allies off balance until they obtain nuclear weapons.

The Brits did not react aggressively in 2004 when their eight sailors and six marines were captured and mistreated, so they were the natural target for this operation. But by achieving a nuclear breakthrough, the Iranians apparently believe it will give them a freer hand in the Gulf and protection from an US attack. I don’t think that they truly believe the President’s and the Democrat’s and Republican’s Presidential candidate’s statements that a nuclear Iran is not permissible. Why should they when hundreds of Americans have been killed by their and Syria’s supported foreign fighters, smuggled in weapons and the most horrific of weapons the IEDs and EFPs and we have done little to counter those actions from those two sanctuaries. Furthermore, Iran continues to escape serious condemnation, beyond their nuclear ambitions, by the leadership of the Democratic Party. The Democratic House leadership would not even allow a vote to support Britain in the latest crisis with Iran. Worse yet, Western governments and NGOs are mostly silent about Iran’s actions against Britain. Actions speak louder than words and little action has been taken by the Coalition forces or the world community.

3/30/2007 08:01:00 PM  
Blogger EB said...

Fear is a powerful tool. I would suggest that Iranian soldiers in Iraq should be taken prisoner or killed.

If Iranian soldiers believe that they will likely become either a prisoner or dead following an engagement with coalition troops, I think they'll manage to avoid us in the future.

How is it possible that after thousands of years we've forgotten the most basic of human impulses?

3/30/2007 08:05:00 PM  
Blogger wretchard said...

The UN has expressed concern over the welfare of the British sailors.

Britain had proposed a stronger statement that would “deplore” Iran’s detention of the marines. However, due to opposition from some Security Council members like Russia and South Africa, a toned-down statement was released.

We live in an era when diplomats must fight bitterly to plant phrases like "deplore" in the paper lanscape of the United Nations and are compelled by intense fires of cocktail scented palaver to retreat most reluctantly to "concern". Long ago, Johnathan Swift satirically described the exertions of the Big and Little Endians who argued over which end of an egg to break. Little did he know that he should have written in earnest.

3/30/2007 08:13:00 PM  
Blogger Meme chose said...

It was absolutely inevitable that something like this was going to occur sooner or later, and it is quite helpful.

Firstly, all European nations including the UK drift towards pacifism during peacetime, led in that direction by their political and social masters. The elites in all the European countries enjoy a dreamy utopianism which allows them to pose in a way that flatters their vanity, and they like to spend the money they could have spent on defense on other things.

The only thing which ever alerts the European populace in general to this folly is the realization that they are actually, right now, suffering a humiliating and disastrous defeat.

The only thing which ever stampedes the European elites into changing their tune is the perception that their worst fears are being realized, i.e. their pretensions and poses are being made to look ridiculous in the eyes of the 'common' electorate.

Only after this happens do the elites change their tune and, afraid of being bypassed and cast aside by a determined and united population, deathly afraid of being deemed irrelevant, perform a simultaneous 180 degree turn and get serious about defense.

See WWII for just one re-enactment of exactly this sequence of events.

Consequently I say to Iran, 'bring it on!'

3/30/2007 08:34:00 PM  
Blogger What is "Occupation" said...

iran is following the hamas & hezbollah model of warfare...

kidnap a few jews or westerners..

then when britian attacks or america attacks they can claim victory if they dont release the hostages and survive...

let's give them victory, just like southern lebanon or the shit tsunami...

3/30/2007 08:45:00 PM  
Blogger wretchard said...

Even if the Europeans snap out of their dreaminess the short term problem is that they have nothing to launch at the Iranians but more words. British newspapers have noted that any actual force must rely on the use of American assets. The spirit may be willing but the flesh is very weak.

Even in the matter of trading prisoners, the coin of the realm is unfortunately in American possession.

US Rules Out Exchanging Captured Iranians for British sailors, according to the BBC.

Nor is there anything mysterious about this. America has spent some years now in unacknowledged hostilities with the enemy that is now bearding Brussels. Like the early days of World War 2 when the British had all the experience in fighting the axis, today it is the USA that has the institutional memory. What does Brussels have, besides pastries and coffee?

Granted the Europeans are starting to wake up, but like the USA in World War 2, even if they were to make a supreme effort, it will be some time before they can even begin to move forward. In the meantime, this steaming pile is squarely in the front yard of the USA.

3/30/2007 08:48:00 PM  
Blogger Marcus Aurelius said...

WHEREAS, The UK sailors were operating lawfully in Iraqi Waters,

WHEREAS, The nation of Iran is violating the Geneva Convetion,

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED THE EU HERE ASSEMBLED DRINKING EXPENSIVE CHAMPAGNE, EATING FINE CAVIAR, AND OTHER DELECTABLE MORSELS (including the kind the fearful enemy PETA opposes – how's that for fortitude!) Demands Iran release the UK sailors or we may gather to discuss a mechanism to suggest about thinking of placing sanctions on Iran.

3/30/2007 09:04:00 PM  
Blogger Meme chose said...

There is only one way the Europeans are going to wake up, and this is it. By being humiliated. We have to get used to it.

In WWII the US came late to the party. This time it's Europe.

3/30/2007 09:07:00 PM  
Blogger allen said...


Swift also wrote, “When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in confederacy against him.”

But who is the genius, if the EU and the UN are members of the confederacy?

3/30/2007 09:17:00 PM  
Blogger wretchard said...

Of course, it's all Bush's fault.

“What is crystal clear is that Iran would never have dared so blatant an act of brinksmanship were it not convinced, quite correctly, that the Iraqi misadventure has rendered Britain too nervous and demoralized, not to mention militarily overstretched, to respond with serious force,” Matthew Norman, a columnist, wrote Friday in The Independent, a British daily newspaper.

“The days when Britain had the stature, self-confidence and facade of moral authority to play sergeant to the U.S. chief inspector on the global stage are over, and the villains know it,” he wrote.

If the Independent wants to hunt for villains, the bathroom mirror would be a good place to start. They are such weasels that they must find someone to blame for the consequences of their own appeasement. Don't wish such people on your side or hope for their conversion. They'll be as much help as Dr. Zachary Smith was to his comrades: a shriek and a double-cross were his entire repertoire. Excuse me. I take that back. They do serve a purpose: by gazing on them you will exactly who not to be like.

3/30/2007 09:20:00 PM  
Blogger Marcus Aurelius said...

IIRC the Ranking UK Naval on the scene commander said his ROEs did not allow him to escalate the sitaution.

Hmmmm, which situation is escalated? The one where the ambushed fought back and escaped or the ones where the ambushed surrendered?

There is a reason we did not hear of the earlier fight and that is Iran was not going to announce their grand plan to capture American forces failed. Now they hold the chips. Same too in this situation. If the UK fought back and turned the Iranian raiders into chum or at least sent them scurrying back without their human full-house we would have heard nothing of this story as well.

3/30/2007 09:30:00 PM  
Blogger Marcus Aurelius said...

Perhaps I have to back off my previous comment. Austin Bay reports the UK sailors were climbing down nets to get back into their launches when the Iranian's struck.

The Sailors, apparently, were screened from view of their commanders by the ship they were inspecting. I bet boarding protocols are going to change!

3/30/2007 09:42:00 PM  
Blogger wretchard said...

I don't think the British Marines and Sailors, or even the CO of HMS Cornwall should be faulted. They were apparently to told that temporary captivity was to be preferred to resistance. But that calculation -- the temporary part -- proved to be terribly incorrect. And I think if a similar scenario were to happen now, the Brits would come out guns blazing.

But that's all 20-20 hindsight. Remember that back in the balmy 1980s, Marines didn't know enough to incinerate the truck which barreled down on the Beirut barracks. Or going back further, the ships at Pearl Harbor would not open fire on approaching aircraft. Still later we would learn that aircraft bearing down on Manhattan in certain circumstances should be shot down, passengers and all, without a second thought.

The problem in each case was that our imaginations were not up to the task of anticipating the perfidy of the enemy. That is not the enemy's problem, to be fair. It is ours. Nobody could conceive of child-borne bombs, explosives planted in retarded persons, attacks on holy places, assaults under flags of truce, weapons transported by ambulance, or even self-inflicted massacres for propaganda purposes until now. But we have had good teachers.

Unfortunately we are poor learners. We buy gloves to handle Korans, exempt burkha clad persons from showing their faces at passport control, apologize to menacing imams, censor the very cartoons in our newspapers, implement catch-and-release in response to complaints, worry endlessly about the welfare of Khalid Sheik Mohammed and in general make monkeys of ourselves. The enemy does not do this to us. We do it to ourselves. Or rather, the mental midgets in our society, the moral cripples of the West, tell us to do it.

And so people die. By the thousands. And still we apologize; still we grovel. And still the worst of us imagine themselves the best of us. How great is our conceit.

3/30/2007 10:42:00 PM  
Blogger Ripama said...

According to Wretchard;The EU will unleash "appropriate measures" on Iran unless 15 British sailors are freed, according to the Guardian.

Good thing the Euros rejected the Constitution, otherwisae they might have to stand behind their British "countrymen". Somehow I can't imagine the fwench coming to the aid of the British.

3/31/2007 07:27:00 AM  
Blogger RWE said...

I am fairly sure that the U.S. forces that engaged the Iranians could have picked up a mike and had airpower the like of which the Iranians have not ever imagined descend on the area. I wonder if the British had the same confidence. I wonder if they do now.

I heard of an interview with an Iraqi commander with responsibilities in the Iranian border area. He was asked if the Iranians concerned him, given his meager forces. He response was "Are you kidding me? We Iraqis know what the phrase 'Death from above.' means."

3/31/2007 07:28:00 AM  
Blogger Al Reasin said...

Wretchard, well said. It is time we had more “life experienced” people in government. It doesn’t seem like they have “been there, done that” on either side of the Atlantic. Therefore, they and we have a lack of imagination about our enemy’s capabilities and ruthlessness in this war. Just look at some of the candidates who think they should be President. We fight as gentlemen while the enemy street fight with us vowing to never stoop to their level. Oh, that seems so fair and such a practical method of ensuring victory and our survival. Right!

I am considered a bit paranoid since I maintain a survival kit for evacuation, plans for the same and an assortment of firearms to protect my family and property. It has only recently, after Katrina, become somewhat publicly acceptable to our spoiled population to consider that the government just might not be able to help everyone immediately nor should they be expected too do so. But the “it can’t happen here” belief while also having a large segment of our citizens having BDS including some many believing the 9/11 attack was homegrown, makes one wonder if we are not doomed by our inability as a nation to overcome our naive PC culture and to adapt to our enemy’s tactics.

When my son deployed to Iraq, he and I shopped and purchased a very good and expensive combat knife. While the Army didn’t train him in hand to hand combat (it’s believed not to be needed anymore) I told him to get a 45 cal side arm if possible; but a knife? Well the M-16 is not the most reliable weapon in a bad environment and better to have a backup of something. Because you certainly don’t want to be captured by the terrorists and it is much easier to die when your adrenalin is rushing during your attack on the enemy. I can’t imagine a person or society just waiting to die. Been there, waiting to die but obviously I didn’t after our submarine was involved in an underwater collision. I had visions of the USS Scorpion which had sunk with all hand lost, two drinking buddies included, 3 months earlier from unknown causes. I had little control then over whether or not I would survive; my son, and our nation, should have every option possible. But that requires doing the “what if” evaluation in your own and collective mind. That was the training in submarines and what was needed in my testing of plant systems during my civilian working career. Now if only our population and politicians would learn to think and analyze in this manner, we would be a more formidable adversary for our enemies. Small chance of that happening considering the political leadership we have on both sides of the aisle.

3/31/2007 08:15:00 AM  
Blogger Cedarford said...

Especially good posts by Al Reasin and Wretchard.

Richard, I agree that we are poor & slow learners. A good part of the reason is that we are in the West, highly "rules-based" societies now less democracies than nations managed by "Ruling Elites" of people adept in law, bureaucratic regulation&control, and people that control the money that runs the societal systems.

In the face of people with no rules, those Ruling Elites retard any adoptation by the West - arguing their precious rules and laws and meticulous ordering of the global economy is so right that it is only a matter of time before the barbarians "come on board". And meanwhile, people that fight radical Islam, cabals of lawyers working out the last finishing touches of International Law and UN and EU authority - will only delay that perfectly ordered, transnational system. But the people watching the mass immigration of hostiles into their lands, the powerlessness their nations now have, the sense that the criminals and enemies and a small rich strata are the only ones benefiting from this "new world" now developing in Europe and America are slowly revolting. Rejection of the EU Constitution and open disobedience of the Lords of Brussels in certain matters shows it. The loathing of the Davos Elites, the enemy-loving ACLU Jewish and WASP lawyers, Bush's attempts to have Open Borders and Mexicans take over trucking in N American roads are getting stronger.

But it will take more terrorist hits, a war or Darfur where the US just sits back and lets the UN and EU try - but fail to stop the slaughter - before the Ruling Elites change course..I would like to protect the Kurds, but I honestly don't care if noble freedom-loving purple fingered Sunni and Shia slaughter one another by the millions if we pull out. It would be a salutory lesson to the Left. Same with Darfur - we leave that whole mess for other nations to deal with. If they fail, and Muslims genocide other Muslims...maybe some "moderate" Muslim mosque leaders will speak out and demand the infidels come and save them from themselves...

Meme chose adds to this with his quote:

Only after this happens do the elites change their tune and, afraid of being bypassed and cast aside by a determined and united population, deathly afraid of being deemed irrelevant

A slight disagreement with Al Reasin over how having a few nukes gives automatic immunity form attack:

But by achieving a nuclear breakthrough, the Iranians apparently believe it will give them a freer hand in the Gulf and protection from an US attack.

The media somehow thinks despite attacks on nuclear-armed Israel in 1973, UK in the Falklands in 1982, then nuclear S Africa by Cuban forces, the USA by Islamoids from Afghanistan in 2001 that somehow, possession of Nukes by N Korea or Iran would make them invulnerable and able to do as they please. Since India and Pakistan have tested nukes, they have come close to conventional war twice. Nothing "unthinkable" about that.

The media doesn't know the military.
Having a few nukes is no real deterrent against a nuclear superpower. Use them and you just give the superpower excuse to obliterate you. Same with other WMD - Saddam had the biowar and nerve agents in 1991. He was told that if he used any - as we invaded and began bombing his forces - we might use as many as our effectively unlimited supply of accurately delivered hydrogen bombs as needed.
He didn't fire off any WMD.
Same with Iran. And N Korea.
They use one or two in a conflict, they get obliterated.

3/31/2007 10:27:00 PM  
Blogger Red River said...

Al Reasin,

Do you have an email address I can contact you at?

3/31/2007 11:04:00 PM  
Blogger José Joseph said...

@Al Reasin:
Al, they're not using M16s now. You can read about M4s (takes your breath away!) in action at the following page. I hope your son doesn't have to use his knife!

3/31/2007 11:52:00 PM  
Blogger Solomon2 said...

If this had been Newsweek I wouldn't have believed a word of it. Still, I did wonder why the Iranians hadn't tried kidnaping Americans instead of Brits. So they already tried? It's foolish to hide the embarassments of the Iranians in the vain hope that this will improve accountability: their diplomats might act a little more nicely, but their leaders will be emboldened.

This certainly was the Soviet experience with espionage operations in much of the world: the more "diplomatically" such incidents were handled, the more bold and impudent the Soviets became. The Iranians, who made it a point to study Cold War dynamics in Western universities in the 70s and early 80s, know this quite well.

4/01/2007 11:51:00 AM  
Blogger Al Reasin said...

Well, my son does carry an M16 not an M4, but he apparently is not doing house to house urban warfare. He won't talk about his duties. In stateside urban warfare training, though, he said they used M16s adapted for paint balls. He did have a bit of a problem in training; he followed my personal ROE views and shot the "enemy" a second time before passing through. I hadn’t noticed in Michaels writings/pictures what everyone was carrying.
Red River, I don't want to give out an address blog wide, I get enough e-mail I don't appreciate. If Wretchard can and is willing, he has my OK to send it to you.
As to the knife; early on in Iraq there were two situations where the knife worked. The Brits, after being ambushed and pinned down.,,2-2004223179,00.html) performed a very successful bayonet charge. When there was a Salvadoran contingent (, they were attacked and an officer had a good friend taken out after they ran out of ammo. He went mad with his knife and won. Every time I see a Civil War reenactment with a bayonet charge, my stomach muscles tighten. How both sides managed to face the cold steel during that war is beyond my imagination. But in our more impersonal world of today it does seem to have a use. That knife/bayonet is just too damn personal.

4/01/2007 07:53:00 PM  

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