Godspeed Marine Corporal Jordan Pierson

Blackfive Interview with Marine Captain James Kimber

The following interview with Marine Captain James Kimber was conducted by myself and the other authors of Blackfive.  Captain Kimber commanded 3/1's India Company, and, along with the 3/1 Battalion Commander and Kilo Company Commander, was relieved for "lack of confidence" following Time Magazine's reporting of one version of the Haditha incident.  Because India Company was in another town (not Haditha), the reasons for Captain Kimber's relief are very suspect of political pressure stemming from Haditha.  [Update 09-02-06:  Deleting the next graph thanks to Commenter Carl providing a timeline of events.  See this Hot Air post for more info.]

Among others (but perhaps most prominent) you can thank John Murtha for causing the removal of a competent, assertive and intelligent US Marine Corps Officer.

The interview is a bit long and I think it's very worth your time to hear what a Marine, who's been treated very unfairly by the Corps that he loves, thinks about the state of affairs in Iraq and the Haditha incident.

Ladies and Gentlemen, US Marine Corps Captain James Kimber:

Blackfive: For openers, let's discuss the Rules of Engagement (ROE).  For those who might not know our jargon, could you explain the ROE for the 3/1 Marines?

Captain Kimber: ROE or ‘Rules of Engagement’ define for Marines what is considered ‘hostile act/hostile intent’, and the criteria for engaging that threat. Marines must have PID (Positive Identification) that someone is committing a hostile act/has hostile intent before they engage. An example is a man maneuvering tactically toward Marines with an RPG may be engaged; RPG = hostile intent, maneuvering tactically toward Marines = hostile intent. As the ROE changes form time to time, I am unsure what 3/1’s current ROE is. I can say that the ROE has become more and more restrictive since we first entered Iraq, due to the gradual stabilization of the Iraqi government, and consequently, the ramifications of innocent deaths upon its credibility in the eyes of the civilian populace.

B5: How would you change the ROE?

Capt Kimber: The ROE exist to shape the way Marines fight and perceive the fight. While they do on occasion hamper Marines’ abilities to address threats, I think they are very useful in maintaining the strategic goals of the Coalition Forces (support of the Iraqi government by the people). I do think that as ROE becomes more and more restrictive, there is a ‘tipping point’ where the Marines need to turn it over to units more comfortable operating within its confines, i.e., Iraqi Police, UN Peacekeepers, MPs, etc. While Marines train hard to operate within the restrictive counter-insurgency environment, let’s not forget the primary mission of the Marine infantryman; “To locate, close with, and destroy the enemy.” However, the biggest detriment of our ROE is that the insurgents know exactly what it is, operate within its limits, and exploit it at every opportunity to achieve their goals of murder, intimidation, and undermining of the Iraqi Government.

B5: What are the benefits or hazards of treating terrorists/insurgents as POWs? Should they just be considered unlawful combatants?

Capt Kimber: The benefits I see for treating terrorists/insurgents as POWs only extend to those who have been detained wrongfully and will eventually be released. Our treatment of detainees influences how the Iraqis perceive us, and our credibility as a professional military force in the eyes of the world. The double-edged sword with our treating of terrorists/insurgents as POWs is that the detainees are treated so well, that there really is no fear from the perspective of the detainee, because they are very familiar with how our system works. The detention facilities are considered to be more ‘information exchange’ symposium between insurgents than some horrific place that will make them think twice about conducting insurgent activities. This being the case, they are willing to ‘push the envelope’ a bit more than if there were severe consequences or a fear of being detained. We have to reflect back to how Saddaam Hussien kept order during his rule. He was dealing with similar issues then as coalition forces are now with regard to ideology, crime, and secretarian differences; he kept those individuals suppressed utilizing murder, physical torture, and other punishments that to these individuals, served as a legitimate deterrent. I am not condoning Saddam’s actions, far from it; I am merely highlighting a fundamental difference between our measures and those employed by the Saddaam regime for controlling the populace. Given our status in the world as a civilized country, we could not possibly employ such techniques, and as such, the insurgents have little to fear from our forces or detention facilities.

I think insurgents/terrorists who are captured conducting or planning for offensive operations against our forces should be classified as ‘unlawful combatants’. ‘Lawful combatants’ are defined as, “(a) that of being commanded by a person responsible for his subordinates; (b) that of having a fixed distinctive sign recognizable at a distance; (c) that of carrying arms openly; [and] (d) that of conducting their operations in accordance with the laws and customs of war." The terrorists/insurgents we fight do not meet this definition, as they are unrecognizable from innocent Iraqis as they cower within the civilian populace, and they certainly do not conduct their operations within the laws or customs of war. One needs to look no further than the videos of these savages as they behead civilians to know what they would do to a captured Marine, and the indiscriminate car bombs that explode almost daily in crowded markets demonstrate their almost overt disregard to operate within any confines of civilized warfare. While Marines walk the razor’s edge daily between causing an international incident and getting killed, the terrorists are not held to any standard of conduct by anyone. While it is my opinion that individuals who fight as ‘unlawful combatants’ should not be afforded the rights of a convention that they themselves disrespect daily, I believe that they should be afforded protection under the basic principles within the ‘Law of War’, regardless of classification. This differs our forces from lowering themselves to the conduct of the savages we fight against in the Middle East.

B5: On to Hadithah- can you describe the activities of terrorists/insurgents in the Hadithah area?

Capt Kimber: The insurgents in Hadithah scattered when we began Operation RIVER GATE, which was the movement of coalition forces into Hadithah, Haqlaniyah, and Barwanah (AKA, the Triad). Initially, we had some hit and run attacks with small arms/RPGs/MMGs, mostly on our fixed positions, some indirect attacks (60mm mortars), and a ton of IEDs. However, the Marines’ operational effectiveness coupled with the positive relationships with the people, gradually reduced attacks to infrequent IEDs of increasingly poor quality as we detained insurgent IED cell members, and reduced weapons caches containing IED-making material. Occasionally, we would get reports of propaganda and intimidation, but due to the presence of the Marines, the civilians really didn’t take it too seriously.

B5: Are most terrorists/insurgents a part of the local population/clan/tribe or are there foreign fighters there as well?

Capt Kimber: In our area, we experienced three basic categories of insurgent/terrorist; local insurgents, criminals, and foreign fighters. The local insurgents and criminals came from the immediate area, from various tribes. The foreign fighters did not operate within the cities, as they would have been sold out to us by the Iraq civilians, and were easily identified by the Iraqi Army soldiers attached to the squads. They operated as a type of ‘traveling team’, coming into the cities from areas with either a reduced or non-existent presence of coalition forces to conduct their attacks, murder, and intimidation. The real danger we began to experience as our intelligence improved, was the insurgents attempting to capitalize upon the extreme poverty of the local civilians, and paying children to dig holes for IEDs, move weapons, or act as lookouts.

B5: Does the population actively support terrorists (assistance, aid, and comfort), passively support (not overly helping, but also not turning in, not warning that they are in houses/their house, etc.), or oppose?

Capt Kimber: I sincerely believed that the majority of the population just wanted to live their lives in a safe, secure environment without interference in their lives from anyone; insurgents or Marines. This being the case, we made every attempt to minimize our impact on the daily lives of the Iraqi civilians. I would say there was not a lot of active support, but there was some passive support by a small part of the population, in that they were reluctant to help us identify anyone who was a local participating in the insurgency. However, there was active and passive support for our counter-insurgency operations by the citizens. We had several sources who helped us collect on the known insurgents operating in the city, assisting us in building target packages to detain them at such time where we had sufficient evidence to ensure that they would spend a significant time in a detention facility. On multiple occasions the locals not only pointed out IEDs and weapons cache locations, but physically prevented insurgents from placing them. Once, I even had a old man jump in front in front of my vehicle as we were moving through the city, and point out a substantial IED concealed under a piece of cardboard just up the road, and along the route we were traveling.

B5: There are reports that the Marines were working closely with/had close ties to various local political leaders, is that true?

Capt Kimber: Yes. All of the company commanders had meetings with the local leaders every week or two, and during the 7 months, we built up some very positive relationships. During the meetings the local leadership would air grievances, ask us for help on a number of issues, and work with our Civil Affairs detachments on projects to improve the quality of life for the local civilians. We also used the meetings as a vehicle to pass PSA (Public Service Announcements) with regard to any information that we thought was important for civilians to be aware of (escalation of force procedures, status of projects, voting issues, etc). You had to be sure that it was a two way street; not just the Iraqis telling us what they want and their problems with coalition forces. I would always work toward solving issues by agreeing to work on the issue with the caveat that they in turn would assist me with accomplishing one of my objectives. For instance, the city council wanted a police force. We said we would work on establishing a police force once there was a substantial reduction in the number of attacks. By the time we left, attacks had all but ceased, and we had begun recruitment for the town’s police force.

B5: Did any of them at any time bring up questions or concerns about the incident in question?

Capt Kimber: The Iraqi civilians thrived on word of mouth as there was no cell service in our area of operations. Word spread like wildfire through the towns regarding rumors, attacks, detainments, etc. If there was the slightest misstep by Marines, I could count on a member of the city council showing up at the Entry Control Point of my base to discuss it with me. What happened in one of the cities in the Triad affected the other two cities, it was a symbiotic relationship between the populations. If something happened to the degree of magnitude of the incident that is being portrayed in the press, rest assured we would have heard about it within days if not hours. I never received any questions or comments criticizing Marine actions in Hadithah. In fact, the only mention of November 19th at all was during the next city council meeting, where they commented that, ‘they were sorry a Marine was killed, and that it was a very bad thing that had happened up there with the insurgents.’

B5: Were any of them, as reported in the media, related to any of the victims? If so, did they say anything? Did their behavior change?

Capt Kimber: As I was in Haqlaniyah and not Hadithah, I am not familiar with who (if anyone) was related to any of the deceased. Again, I noticed no change in the overall behavior of the populace in Haqlaniyah.

B5: Was there any indication of a problem prior to the activities of the reporter?

Capt Kimber: The first indication I had of any sort of incident occurring in Hadithah was when I had heard in February (almost 3 months after the fact) from a fellow officer that there was a Time magazine reporter coming in to research what had occurred on November 19th. Since the alleged November 19th incident, the battalion had supervised the 2005 Iraqi National Elections in December throughout the Triad. It should be noted that in October 2005 (the month the battalion conducted its movement into the Triad), the Triad was considered ‘too dangerous’ to send Iraqi Election Officials for the national vote on the Iraqi Constitutional Referendum. Also, all of the companies had significant drops in enemy activity after November 19th, and in Haqlaniyah we went several weeks without a single IED. This is significant considering that when we arrived in October, we found 9 IEDs in a single week. So, I would say that the situation in the Triad had improved markedly since November 19th.

B5: Was it one reporter or more than one that were digging around?

Capt Kimber: I am not certain, I had just heard of the Time Magazine reporter.

B5: There are reports of payments to the families of those injured/killed. Is this true? What is the standard practice for such payments?

Capt Kimber: Yes. Solatia payments are standard practice for any damages, injuries, and deaths caused by coalition forces, it is NOT indicative of a cover-up as has been alleged by certain individuals.

B5: As far as you are aware, had there been discussions amongst the Marines in Hadithah about getting payback for a recent loss?

Capt Kimber: No.

B5: Where had those Marines suspected of the atrocities served in the past? Fallujah/Ramadi vets or green? Were those Marines trained to put security rounds into Tangos?

Capt Kimber: I do not have knowledge of the Kilo Company Marines’ status as veterans; I can say that the Battalion had a great number of combat veterans (over 50%). However, even the newest Marines in the Battalion had participated in an extensive and grueling pre-deployment training program that in hindsight, prepared us for most every challenge we encountered in our deployment to Iraq. Additionally, during the deployment, Marines were required to participate frequently in ‘reset training’, which mandated that Marines would have classes/practical application to refresh those skills most applicable to the current operational picture (escalation of force, detainee handling, live fire, medical training, etc).