Marines Prepared, Trained for Iraq Mission, Says Commander
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Apr. 8, 2004 Although the rules of engagement specifically identify mosques as protected structures, Iraqi insurgents forfeited that protection when they used a mosque in central Fallujah, Iraq, April 7 to launch attacks on U.S. forces, the commanding general of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Brigade told reporters at Camp Pendleton, Calif., today.
Marine Maj. Gen. Keith Stalder said that when a platoon-size group of enemy forces occupied the mosque and the grounds immediately surrounding it and fired on Marines, that mosque lost the protection of the law of war. At that point, Stalder said, the Marines' right to defend themselves became the most important issue.
"If anybody shoots at us from a mosque, then we are going to do what we need to do to protect ourselves," he said.
Stalder said the Marines subdued and suppressed the enemy operating from the mosque, killing at least one.
During the firefight, in which the Marines called in an air strike that took out a wall surrounding the mosque, Stalder said the Marines made every effort to minimize damage inflicted. "But once we do return fire or engage, we minimize the damage to the degree that we can, and we ensure that the response is proportional to the threat."
Stalder said that once security is established, the Marines will return to help the local citizens there rebuild any damage -- not only from this most recent combat activity, but also from earlier neglect during the Saddam Hussein regime.
The Marines are making steady headway in Iraq, "winning on the ground in our area of operation, " Stalder said. "Where we operate, we are doing the job, we are performing our mission, killing the bad guys and making life better for the average Iraqi people in the western part of Iraq."
He said the Marines, many of whom served in Iraq during the country's liberation, are trained, equipped and prepared to deal with whatever enemy resistance they encounter. "We went fully prepared to engage and kill the enemy wherever they chose to fight and we are doing that right now," he said. "We are winning every firefight we engage in."
Stalder credited the Army's 82nd Airborne Division, which previously served in the Marines' area of operation, with doing "a magnificent job" and in making a smooth transition of authority to the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force.
The general said he feels confident that the Marines have the proper number and mix of forces to accomplish their mission, but that his staff on the ground will reassess the situation regularly. "I am very comfortable that we have everything we need right now," Stalder said.
He said no discussion is under way involving the extension of Marines' deployments in Iraq, most of which now extend about seven months.
For now, Stalder said the Marines' mission in Iraq remains basically the same as during the past deployment: "to conduct security operations, kill or capture the bad guys who threaten that, and help the local Iraqis rebuild their lives, their government and their country."