General: Marines Not Hampered by Rules of Engagement
By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Apr. 16, 2004 Marines surrounding the volatile Iraqi town of Fallujah may be in an offensive operational pause, but that doesn't affect their ability to defend themselves, a top U.S. Central Command officer said today in Doha, Qatar.
Marines moved into the city west of Baghdad in force after four U.S. contractors were killed and their bodies mutilated there March 31. Iraqi government officials since have brokered a cease-fire.
A pause in offensive operations doesn't mean Marines can't act proactively to deal with immediate threats, Marine Maj. Gen. John Sattler, CENTCOM's operations director, said in a telephone briefing from CENTCOM's forward headquarters in Doha with reporters in the Pentagon.
He said the Marines in the area have not been "hamstrung or hampered in any way, shape or form" by their rules of engagement and don't have to wait until fired upon to take action, as has been reported in some media outlets.
"If someone's setting up down the street and preparing to take you under fire or set up a mortar position somewhere where you don't have direct fire upon them, the Marines are able to go ahead and take some limited as they see fit offensive action to prevent that," Sattler explained.
The general also said that coalition forces in the area are comfortable with the level of intelligence information they're getting in the area and are content to let the Iraqi Governing Council work to negotiate an end to the tense situation in Fallujah.
He noted that he feels it's important to give the negotiations a chance to succeed. "Keep in mind, our goal is not to capture the town of Fallujah," Sattler said. "Our goal is to go and free the town of Fallujah, to go in and eliminate those fighters, foreign fighters, those extremists that are in the town that have taken it away from those who reside there."
Garnering far less publicity than operations around Fallujah, Marines have stepped up efforts to shut down Iraq's border region with Syria as a throughway for foreign fighters and smugglers.
Sattler said efforts are particularly focused in an area known as "the rat line," where foreign fighters were traveling through the countryside around Qaim, near where the Euphrates River passes from Syria into Iraq.
"We had an extreme amount of success on the front side, meaning that we did find, fix, and ultimately finish a number of cells that were out there, that were facilitating this type of movement," he said.
He acknowledged the Marines suffered some casualties in the area, but said it is much calmer in the past two weeks.
Part of the Marines' success in tightening the border region can be attributed to their forethought in upping the number of troops they brought when they replaced the Army's 82nd Airborne Division in the region.
"When (the Marines) went out and did their reconnaissance (before assuming control of the region), they made a conscious decision to bring more so they could, in fact, work that border region very hard," Sattler said.
He declined to disclose specific numbers, but estimated that the Marines had a third again the number of troops the Army had covering the same region.