There are so many moving pieces surrounding this Riverine Assault boat seizure incident and the capture of 10 U.S. sailors. The pictures of our sailors on their knees, hands over their heads, is being displayed all over the world, and paraded about by our enemies. This is an utterly embarrassing moment and is not in keeping with the great traditions of John Paul Jones and Stephen Decatur. But I thought it important to take the time to provide an analysis of what we do know.
This incident reminds me of when three American soldiers were captured by the Yugoslavian army back in Bosnia, 1999. As CNN reported:
Three U.S. army soldiers were held captive by the Yugoslav Army Thursday after it said the three men “were captured on Serb territory” and “resisted arrest.”
Serb television showed pictures of the three men dressed in camouflage military fatigues. One of the men had several cuts on his face; another had a cut on his nose.
Serb television identified the men as James Stone, Andrew Ramirez and Steven Gonzales. The names could also be seen on their camouflage uniforms. NATO spokesman Jamie Shea said the three were part of the peacekeeping mission in Macedonia and were on a routine vehicle patrol “in fairly rugged terrain near Kumanovo when they reported they had come under fire.”
“This morning we have seen the TV pictures indicating that these three soldiers had been captured by Yugoslav forces,” he said.”
I was still on active duty and was a Major assigned as the Executive Officer of an air assault artillery Battalion at Ft. Bragg. Our immediate question was, how were these soldiers apprehended without firing a shot? As well, we pondered why were these three operating isolated from support and when did they call in for a reaction force? If you remember, Jesse Jackson was dispatched and they were released to him – and they sang “free at last” – how cute. It was an embarrassing moment. There were rumors all over the place; one was that these three were taken while stopping off at a local eating establishment. One thing is for certain, they were taken without firing a shot.
That brings me to this current incident with the Iranians. First of all, I find it odd that these Riverine craft were operating on an excursion from Kuwait to Bahrain. Why were they not hugging close to the coast line? Now, I also find it perplexing to be told that the engines of the boats malfunctioned. If that were the case, an immediate call should have been made and at least, aerial surveillance and support should have been dispatched. The next thing would have been immediate dispatching of a recovery vessel to support these two boats. Regardless of one or two boat engines malfunctioning, what should have happened after a distress call was all hands manning the boat weapons. They should have been in an immediate defensive posture to secure themselves until recovery was complete – or they were back underway.
I find it rather disturbing that any Iranian watercraft were able to approach these two heavily armored assault boats. My question would be, was the on-board radar equipment operable? If so, then the approaching enemy craft would have been detected. That being the case, the officer in charge should have reported contact, verified that they were not friendly, and taken action to defend his position, his boats. That means warning shots should have been fired, if not heeded, and then the full power of these assault boats levied against the enemy watercraft – with situation reports being sent to higher command. We need to know why exactly those actions were not taken – and if the young officer in charge was told to not take any action. And if so, by whom.
The result of two U.S. Navy vessels being boarded and seized by an enemy – which is what the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Navy is – is disturbing. The images and video they took depicting our sailors on their knees in the position of surrender is damning. This, folks, is an act of war, and our sailors were captured. Let’s not try and use “nuanced” language.
Now, I’m sure there are those progressive socialist detractors who would say, Col. West, you would have started a war. And that is the exact example of cowardice from which the Iranians are now benefitting.
Let me share with you the Code of Conduct for members of the United States Armed Forces:
I. I am an American, fighting in the forces which guard my country and our way of life. I am prepared to give my life in their defense.
II. I will never surrender of my own free will. If in command, I will never surrender the members of my command while they still have the means to resist.
III. If I am captured I will continue to resist by all means available. I will make every effort to escape and aid others to escape. I will accept neither parole nor special favors from the enemy.
IV. If I become a prisoner of war, I will keep faith with my fellow prisoners. I will give no information or take part in any action which might be harmful to my comrades. If I am senior, I will take command. If not, I will obey the lawful orders of those appointed over me and will back them up in every way.
V. When questioned, should I become a prisoner of war, I am required to give name, rank, service number and date of birth. I will evade answering further questions to the utmost of my ability. I will make no oral or written statements disloyal to my country and its allies or harmful to their cause.
VI. I will never forget that I am an American, fighting for freedom, responsible for my actions, and dedicated to the principles which made my country free. I will trust in my God and in the United States of America.
I did not make this up, and this is the code by which I lived for my 22 years in service – and would still do today. This whole episode is not in keeping with the Code of Conduct. But before we go and demonize a young naval officer, we need ask, did he take orders from someone else? There can be no doubt, after watching the video and the words spoken, there were countless violations of this code. Our honor calls upon us to fight, to resist, not surrender. The ramifications of not doing so means our honor is now being mocked and we’re seen as nothing more than cowards on our knees. Say what you wish, but that’s the perception in the Middle East, especially to our enemies.
Iran has been emboldened. And I must ask, were our weapons returned or were these sailors set back upon the open waters defenseless? How much of our riverine assault craft technology and comms equipment had been compromised?
This is not as John Kerry, a former naval officer, stated. We showed no strength in our ability to negotiate. Our strength should have been in reporting that Iranian naval vessels attempted to seize two U.S. naval vessels, were engaged and then sunk. Our sailors recovered several Iranians from the sea who are being held. That is the message that should have been sent.
Instead the message is that the Americans surrendered and we also got $150B from them – ain’t that a daisy!
I pray this is not the result of the neutered Navy under the auspices of SecNav Ray Mabus, who’s more concerned about gender neutral duty positions. One thing for certain, there is one word to describe all of this.