Sky News.com – 2007-04-05 22:06:51
Captain Chris Air: ‘We Gathered Intelligence’
LONDON (April 05, 2007) — The captain in charge of the 15 marines detained in Iran has said they were gathering intelligence on the Iranians. Sky News went on patrol with Captain Chris Air and his team in Iraqi waters close to the area where they were arrested – just five days before the crisis began.
We withheld the interview until now so it would not jeopardize their safety.
And today, former Iranian diplomat Dr Mehrdad Khonsari said if the Iranians had known about it, they would have used it to “justify taking the marines captive and put them on trial”.
Captain Air and his team were on an ‘Interaction Patrol’ where their patrol boats came alongside fishing dhows. The operation was mainly to investigate arms smuggling and terrorism but Captain Air said it was also to gain intelligence on Iranian activity.
He told Sky Correspondent Jonathan Samuels: “Basically we speak to the crew, find out if they have any problems, let them know we’re here to protect them, protect their fishing and stop any terrorism and piracy in the area,” he said.
“Secondly, it’s to gather INT (intelligence). If they do have any information, because they’re here for days at a time, they can share it with us. Whether it’s about piracy or any sort of Iranian activity in the area. Obviously we’re right by the buffer zone with Iran.”
The UK Defence Secretary Des Browne told Sky News it was important to gather intelligence to “keep our people safe”.
He said: “Modern military operations all have an element of gathering intelligence. “We need to understand as much as we can about the environment we operate in and intelligence gathering is an every day part of that.”
He added: “The UN mandate would clearly empower the military taskforce to gather information about the environment in which they were working.”
Captain Air said that fishing dhows had been robbed by Iranian soldiers on a number of occasions.
“It’s good to gather int on the Iranians,” he said.
Fifteen sailors and marines were taken captive nearly two weeks ago after the Iranian government claimed they had strayed into their waters.
Captain Chris Air In His Own Words
LONDON (April 05, 2007) — Captain Chris Air of the Royal Marines revealed to Sky News that he and his colleagues had been gathering intelligence on the Iranians. Here follows the full transcript of that interview.
Captain Air: “This is what’s called an IPAT – an Interaction patrol whereby we come alongside or even board the fishing Dhows and basically interact with the crew.
“It’s partly a hearts-and-minds type patrol, whereby we’ll come along and speak to the crew, find out if they have any problems and just sort of introduce ourselves, let them know we’re here to protect them, protect their fishing and stop any terrorism and piracy in the area.
“Secondly it’s to gather int (Intelligence). If they do have any information because they’re here for days at a time, they can share it with us whether it’s about piracy or any sort of Iranian activity in the area because obviously we’re right by the buffer zone with Iran.
Jonathan Samuels — “This Dhow had been robbed by some Iranian soldiers about 3 days ago, they had some money taken off them and apparently it’s happened quite a lot of times in the past so it’s good to gather int on the Iranians.”
Sky Correspondent Jonathan Samuels: Is the captain happy to talk to you?
“Yes he is yeah. They’re generally very compliant and friendly. We have a translator onboard who’s a great help – sort of helps to break the ice – and we’re obviously learning Arabic as well.
“It’s good to help them just get relaxed and it’s a very friendly and de-escalatory approach we adopt.”
JS – Any dangers?
“At the moment we haven’t encountered anyone who’s been anything other than compliant (interrupted).
“We are capable of doing non-compliant boardings as well, however I think they’d be a bit stupid to start being aggresive with us because obviously we’ve got seven armed Marines and generally that’s not a problem with us coming aboard because they understand we’re here to help them at the end of the day.”
JS – Any real risks?
“There can be yes, and we’re not complacent about what we do so we make sure that we do take all the necessary security measure before we go jumping on a Dhow. We’ll assess the situation and make sure it’s secure before we come aboard.”
• Exclusive: Sailors’ Mission (Video)