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thedrifter
04-11-06, 01:04 PM
April 17, 2006
I MEF limits details in death announcements
Change made to reduce enemy access to data

By Christian Lowe
Times staff writer

The Marine Corps has opted to restrict certain details from its press releases announcing the deaths of its troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, reversing a previous policy that was more open.

The top public affairs officer with I Marine Expeditionary Force, which took over control of Anbar province in western Iraq in March, said the command decided to restrict information that it claims would aid insurgents.

“The enemy uses media reports as a research tool to improve the lethality of their techniques,” I MEF spokesman Lt. Col. Bryan Salas wrote in an e-mail response to questions about the policy change.


“To protect our Marines, sailors, soldiers and partnered Iraqi security forces in Iraq, the [Marine commander of Anbar] has made the difficult decision to limit the details included in our casualty press releases.”

In contrast, press releases written by the Camp Lejeune, N.C.-based II MEF, which controlled the area before I MEF took over in March, described the method of the attack — roadside bomb, mortar attack, small-arms fire, car bomb — and gave the city in which the attack occurred.

Starting March 3, releases began saying troops died “in al Anbar province” as a result of “combat operations.”

Descriptions on the nature of the attack are sometimes specific, other times vague. Several deaths April 2 were reported as occurring during “combat operations,” while a death March 10 was reported as “a suicide, vehicle-borne [improvised explosive device].”

The restrictiveness of the new release method is similar to the method used when I MEF first led Marine forces in Iraq in 2004. Most of those releases gave “enemy fire” or “enemy action” as the cause of death. Sometimes, the city was named; other times, the location was listed as “Anbar.”

Casualty releases from the Army continue to give more specific details, similar to those of II MEF. But no such particulars have been included in I MEF releases since March.

“The decision is intended to reduce the enemy’s effectiveness by depriving them of direct and timely feedback obtained through our archived press releases,” Salas wrote.

The top press officer for II MEF in Iraq last year, then-Lt. Col. Dave Lapan, said the command’s openness balanced “the American public’s right to know with protection of our families from undue trauma or stress and safeguarding critical information.”

Sig Christenson, president of Military Reporters and Editors, an advocacy group for defense reporters, reacted strongly to I MEF’s move, saying it was out of character for the Corps to be so restrictive.

“Usually the Marines don’t get squirrelly,” Christenson said April 4. “This isn’t their war, it’s everyone’s war, and people have a right to know what’s going on.”

Ellie