Marines say allegations undercut them

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Marines say allegations undercut them
by Kimberly Johnson, USA Today

RAMADI, Iraq Allegations that Marines killed civilians in the western Iraqi town of Hadithah last year could undo efforts to win the cooperation of locals in the volatile Anbar province, some Marines say.

All it does is make our jobs harder out here, said Capt. Andrew Del Gaudio, commander of Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment. Every Iraqi will assume Marines will act like that. It’s a perception that in this part of the world is hard to overcome.

The allegations also highlight the rapid life-and-death decisions that soldiers and Marines make in the shadowy world of guerrilla warfare.

It’s the young Marines who really make the difference out here, Del Gaudio said…

     

Investigators are looking into charges that Marines killed civilians in anger after a colleague died in a roadside bomb attack in November. The investigations are still under way.

In his first statement on the case, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on Tuesday expressed remorse over the deaths. We emphasize that our forces, that multinational forces will respect human rights, the rights of the Iraqi citizen, al-Maliki said in an interview with the British Broadcasting Corp.

The Marine Corps initially attributed 15 civilian deaths in the November incident to a car bombing and a firefight with insurgents.

Hadithah is a village along the Euphrates River valley in Anbar province, one of the most dangerous regions in Iraq. The U.S. military announced Tuesday that it will send about 1,500 troops from its Kuwait-based reserve force to temporarily bolster forces in the province, which stretches from west of Baghdad to the Syrian border. It’s a heavily Sunni area where outsiders are viewed suspiciously.

Fighting an elusive enemy while trying to persuade citizens to cooperate with Iraq’s new government has proved difficult for U.S. forces in the region.

With this going on still, we have to be more aware about how our actions may be perceived, said Maj. Tom Hobbs, executive officer of 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment.

Del Gaudio said he made a tough call after a roadside bomb killed four of his men in April. While securing the scene, he was shot at by a machine gun in a follow-up attack. When he aimed his weapon to return fire, he saw that the gunmen had a line of children standing in front of them and two men filming with video cameras. He held fire until the children moved out of the way but was shot in his hand, which was only inches from his face.

Restraint almost cost me my life, he said.

Marine Commandant Gen. Michael Hagee recently traveled to Marine bases in Iraq to underscore rules of combat. We do not employ force just for the sake of employing force, Hagee said in a statement.

Cpl. Michael Compton, 22, of Kilo Company, said he was confronted with a tough choice when a colleague, Lance Cpl. Richard Caseltine, 20, was shot and injured.

A bullet went through Caseltine’s helmet, tracing the inner lining, then exited out the back of the helmet. Shrapnel from the bullet casing was lodged in the back of Caseltine’s neck. Compton had to remove Caseltine from the scene so he could receive medical care and be evacuated.

My first reaction was to shoot everyone, Caseltine said. I was scared, p—– off every emotion was running high. He said it took about 10 seconds for him to settle down and return his focus on the gunbattle and getting to safety.

Marines regularly review the rules of engagement, Lt. Carlos Goetz said. People who can be viewed with hostile intent can include a military-age male carrying an AK-47, someone pointing a weapon at a Marine or placing an improvised explosive device, or even someone watching Marine posts with binoculars, Goetz said. Every time we shoot someone, we make sure they meet that criteria, he said.

Goetz said he emphasizes professionalism with his men. The decisions that they make are split-second, he said. Sometimes restraint may make them hesitate.

Weeks after the Humvee attack killed four members of Kilo Company, he found a poster in an Iraqi’s possession that showed a military truck destroyed by a roadside bomb.

Every fiber in my being wanted to snap these people’s necks, he said. Instead, the men were brought in for questioning regarding their display of anti-coalition propaganda.

I showed professionalism, and so did my Marines, because they were also angry, Goetz said. It wasn’t justified for me to kill them.


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