UK Regrets Sale of Captured Troops' Story


Britain Defence Secretary Des Browne said on 19 June that the capture of eight Royal Navy sailors (one female) and seven Royal Marines by Iran was -- according to the official investigation -- not the result of a single gross failing or individual human error. However, Browne did admit that the Ministry of Defence (MOD) erred in allowing the 14 men and one woman to sell the story of their capture and detainment to the news media.

(Photo from BBC)

There will be no disciplinary action in the wake of the investigation.

The investigation determined that the seizure of the sailors and Marines by Irans Revolutionary Guards on 23 March 2007 resulted from the coming together of a series of vulnerabilities. While Browne presented the inquirys findings to Britains House of Commons, the full report will not be released because it is classified and contains tactical military information.

The central lesson is that we must improve our ability to identify and assess the risks that this complex environment generates, and to train and posture our forces accordingly, Browne told the lawmakers.

Admiral Jonathon Band, the First Sea Lord, said that the Royal Navy would learn from the capture. The navy is keen to repair any dent as quickly as possible, he said. We will recover from this. I accept it was a bad day.

The MOD inquiry was headed by retired Lieutenant-General Sir Robert Fulton, the governor of Gibraltar and a former Commandant of the Royal Marines. The inquiry recommends that specialist teams should be employed for boarding operations when military personnel search ships for contraband and weapons. It also recommends further training for those teams, which Secretary Browne said was already being carried out.

A second inquiry -- into the Defence Ministrys handling of the media storm that followed the capture -- also recommended policy changes. Conducted by Tony Hall, the British Broadcasting Corporations former director of news and current affairs, the second report criticized the ministry for allowing the seized sailors and Marines to sell their stories to the media.

Normally, serving military personnel of most countries are not allowed to take payment from media organizations. The telling of their capture and imprisonment for payment -- especially one young man telling how unhappy he was when his iPod was taken away -- infuriated many Britons.

British Defence officials cited exceptional circumstances in allowing the sale of their stories. I acknowledge this failing was my responsibility, Secretary Browne said..

Halls inquiry recommended that media payments to serving military or civilian personnel, for talking about their work, should simply not be allowed.

The parallel inquiries were ordered by Browne after the release of the 15 British naval personnel on 4 April. The British personnel, from HMS Cornwall, were searching a merchant ship when and their two rigid-hull inflatable boats were intercepted by Iranian craft near the disputed Shatt al-Arab waterway. A helicopter from the Cornwall, which had been in the area, returned to the warship to refuel, apparently alerting the Iranians to the vulnerability of the British craft and their crews.

-- Norman Polmar

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