The commanding officer of a West Coast-based Navy riverine squadron has been fired in the fallout from an investigation into an incident in which 10 sailors were briefly captured by Iranian forces earlier this year.
Cmdr. Eric Rasch, commanding officer of Coastal Riverine Squadron 3, was relieved today by Capt. Gary Leigh, the commander of Coastal Riverine Group 1 due to a “loss of confidence in his ability to command,” according to a Navy release.
Leigh made the decision to remove Rasch after reviewing a preliminary investigation into the incident that unfolded over Jan. 12-13. Two riverine boats carrying ten sailors from CRS-3 were apprehended by the Iranian military after they entered Iranian waters.
Officials noted in the release that Rasch was the executive officer of the squadron at the time of the incident.
The nine men and one woman detained were released less than 24 hours after their capture after Secretary of State John Kerry intervened on their behalf.
A timeline of events released by U.S. Central Command indicates that the riverine boats deviated course en route to a refueling mission during a transit from Kuwait to Bahrain. One boat had a mechanical issue in a diesel engine, which both boats stopped to address while in Iranian waters. It remains unclear how the boats entered Iranian waters and whether the crew knew where they were at the time.
A command investigation into the incident was launched Jan. 14; it has been reviewed by senior Navy officials, but has not been released publicly.
Capt. Stanfield Chien, prospective deputy of CRG-1, will take over command of the squadron in the wake of Rasch’s firing, according to the Navy release.
It remains unclear if more firings will follow in the wake of the incident.
The Iranian government has attempted to leverage the events for a propaganda victory, disseminating video of a sailor appearing to apologize for venturing into Iranian waters to national media and publishing images of sailors on their knees in a position of surrender.
Rasch enlisted in the Navy in 1989 and previously served as an electronic warfare officer in Iraq in 2008 and 2009, and as the executive officer of the Arleigh-Burke Class destroyer Sampson in 2010. His awards include a Bronze Star.