Brits Back: Mystery Remains

Friday morning cable news was saturated with scenes of the British sailors and marines, their embrace-filled return, a uniformed press conference, long and fact filled interviews — “How does it feel being back!?” The interviewers, to a person, larded their rising and falling tones with indicators of “bad Iranians,” “good Brits.” It was really quite a show.

Alongside it, especially in the British tabloids, and here, but on certain chauvinistically pumped US cable shows, and bloggers, snarling innuendo’s were raised about the capitulation of the British troops to the Revolutionary Guard, the too-quick apologies for being in Iranian waters. There was pooh-poohing about the “stress” of being blindfolded and hearing guns being cocked. There were claims that Americans would never have been captured without a fight.

Few of the commentators I have heard brought up the obvious: how did this happen? How were these youngsters left so alone?

Where was the captain of the HMS Cornwall, Jeremy Woods, or the Coalition task force commander Commodore Nick Lambert during the capture? Where was the Cornwall itself? Why didn’t its radar pick up the 6 Revolutionary Guard speed boats approaching from nearby land? Why didn’t the helicopter hovering overhead with the conveniently displayed GPS device see the boats approaching? Why was the whole boarding party searching the vessel with no one scanning the area for possible change of situation? Was no one left in the boats themselves, highly mobile and heavily armed, while the boarders were searching?

It would seem odd in almost any case, but this one, Iraqi waters or not, was highly charged. Three or four enormous aircraft carriers were in the area. A shooting war is going on not too far away. The closest land mass belongs to a country with a recent history of contention with the country to which the HMS Cornwall belongs. And a boarding part of 15 youngsters is sent over without a plan, without backup, without lookouts?

Watch for a Board of Investigation. Or, if not, suspect a plot the deviousness of which we can only begin to guess.

We can be glad that cooler heads prevailed (it seems,) and that no further escalation occurred. But if the narrative is as it has been presented, the British Navy has a lot of questions to answer.

Those in charge of the over-all strategy –e.g. the Americans– ought to be asking themselves a few questions as well.

For a purely military analysis of the board and capture see David Eshel at Defense Update.

Sara Lyall in the NY Times, syndicated widely, has an early summary of the questions raised about the captives’ behavior.

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