Today must be the day to get email from troops. Keep ’em coming–a few words from the front lines or from troops familiar with workings on the front lines carries much more weight with me than anything emanating from the AP and other MSM outlets.

This email comes from a USN Lt who has served in the Gulf and has seen Iranian tactics and actions up close. He served aboard the USS Underwood, which patrols the North Arabian Gulf along with the HMS Cornwall. That’s the ship that the captured British sailors and Marines belong to. I think the Lt provides some useful backstory on the Iranian seizure of those 15 British troops.

I don’t think it was widely reported, but the last time The ‘Wood was in the NAG (North Arabian Gulf) (from roughly Oct ’04 until Jan ’05) the Brits had a standoff with the Iranians. It was early December ’04 if i remember correctly when for a reason we could never ascertain, something like 5 or 6 merchant vessels ran aground trying to enter the Shat’ al Arab, which is roughly the dividing line between Iranian and Iraqi waters (depending upon who you ask, as you might imagine). A British Boarding Team boarded one of the aground vessels to try to figure out why so many vessels ran aground at the same time. While in the merchant vessel, small boats from the Iranian Republican Guard Corps Navy (IRGCN) surrounded the vessel and the British small boat standing by. The picture I believe is classified, but you can imagine the reaction of the guys in the RHIB when there were two IRGCN RHIBs within 20 feet, pointing AK-47’s and an RPG at them. Needless to say the RHIB backed off and returned to the ship. The Boarding Team hunkered down and the diplomacy started. It ended with the Boarding Team getting lifted off the merchant via helicopter, a needlessly dangerous operation, because the Iranians gave them permission to do so by air but only until sunset. After that all bets would be off.

The reason the IRGCN claimed they had the right to act? The Brits had “entered Iranian Territorial Waters.” The line that separates the territories there is under about as much disagreement as the border between Pakistan and India.

The IRGCN is extremely active in this area as well. The Iranian Navy (IRN) is very professional and works with us in a polite if cold manner. The IRGCN are erratic and seemingly looking for a fight. They are a little strange in the operational tactics as well. For instance, they set-up a little base on the top of a sunken crane. The crane part was sticking up probably 50-100 feet (I don’t know for sure, we never got within a mile of it) and they would keep it manned at all times, and their little small boat terror crews would overnight there by tying up to the crane and climbing up to their little shack they had built. I also DO mean TERROR CREWS because nightly we would hear fishermen begging for help over the civilian radio as they were attacked in what can only be viewed as state sponsored piracy, usually in Iraqi waters. Lots of stuff from that time still piss me off.

Another key note in all of this. The reason we are up there, so close to the line, is to train the Iraqi Navy, and to protect the Al Basra Oil Terminal (ABOT) and the Khwar al Amaya Oil Terminal (KAAOT). These two terminals (KAAOT is likely still inoperable) represent the only effective means of exporting Iraqi oil, as they have no deep water ports for the super tankers. Our estimates were 60-70% of the Iraqi economy balanced on the availability of these terminals.

Iran is likely to respond to any attack on its nuclear facilities, or any attempt to free the 15 British hostages, with strikes on the ABOT as well as proxy attacks inside Iraq. Lebanon might flare up again with Iranian support. I’m sure our planners are factoring that into their thinking, but it’s probably a good idea if the rest of us do too.

But with all of the danger to coalition forces in the area that the Lt describes, why are the UK’s rules of engagement there so weak?

Clarification: I’ve gotten a few emails expressing concern for the usage of “North Arabian Gulf” instead of the more common “Persian Gulf” in this post. The emailer used “Arabian,” so I also used it for the sake of consistency.