Rules reviewed after sailors return
LONDON (Reuters) - Britain has suspended boarding operations in the Gulf and is reviewing rules of engagement in the area's waters after Iran seized 15 British sailors and marines, Navy Chief Jonathon Band said on Friday.
He said the 15, released in Tehran on Thursday and flown back to Britain for an emotional reunion with their families, were under psychological pressure when apparently confessing in letters and appearances on Iranian television.
Defending the conduct of the sailors, several of whom are due to give a 3:00 p.m. news conference at a military base where they are being debriefed in southwest England, Band said: "I stand by what they did."
He said Britain had halted boarding operations in the Gulf and was reviewing how they are handled in future amid disquiet over how easily the sailors were seized on March 23.
"As part of this ongoing review, the operational procedures and the rules of engagement that go with them will be reconsidered," he told BBC Radio.
Iran still holds the only two boats used to carry out the search operations in the area.
Iran said they had strayed into its territory but Britain said they were in Iraqi waters on a regular U.N. mission.
The peaceful end to the stand-off with the world's fourth largest oil exporter prompted a drop in oil prices.
But Britain's relief at the sailor's safe return was tempered by bad news from Iraq where four British soldiers were killed by the sort of roadside explosive device which London has in the past said were being smuggled over the border from Iran.
COURAGE AND DIGNITY
Responding to criticism of how the sailors behaved when appearing on Iranian television and accusations that they were too willing to co-operate with their captors, Band said they had acted with dignity and courage.
"I don't think there is any doubt from the statements that some of them made, and certainly the letters, that they were under a certain element of psychological pressure, and we will find out more," he said of their de-briefing.
"The letters written by the leading seaman (Faye Turney -- the only female captive), a couple of the statements, they were made in a way that I don't believe were entirely natural," he added.
Band said the sailors were not spying but Chris Air, one of the captives, told Sky News in an interview recorded before their seizure that one of their jobs was to "gather int (intelligence)" on Iran.
Defence Secretary Des Browne castigated armchair pundits who criticised how the naval personnel behaved.
"We ought to be very careful about commenting from the comparative comfort of wherever we are, when we are not out there on operations, about decisions that operational commanders and other people make," he told Sky News.
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