Navy Completes Iran Riverine Incident Probe; More Firings Possible

This picture released by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards on Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2016, shows detained American Navy sailors in an undisclosed location in Iran. Sepahnews via AP
This picture released by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards on Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2016, shows detained American Navy sailors in an undisclosed location in Iran. Sepahnews via AP

The Navy has finished a lengthy investigation into a Jan. 12 incident in which the crews of two riverine command boats were captured and briefly detained after being discovered in Iranian waters.

"The investigation is complete, and is being referred to appropriate commands for adjudication," Navy spokesman Lt. Loren Terry told Military.com.

A defense official familiar with the investigation said Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson was expected to make a public announcement detailing the investigation's findings and follow-on actions before the end of the month.

The capture of the ten sailors, whose identities have yet to be made public, was a propaganda victory for Iranian media outlets, who circulated images of the sailors on their knees surrendering to Iran military officials, and a video of one apparently apologizing to his captors for the mistake that resulted in the riverine boats navigating into Iranian waters.

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American Sailor Apologizes to Iran

Already, one Navy commanding officer has been fired in relation to the incident. Cmdr. Eric Rasch, former commanding officer of Coastal Riverine Squadron 3, out of Imperial Beach, California, was relieved in May due to a "loss of confidence in his ability to command," according to Navy officials. Rasch was the executive officer of the squadron at the time of the incident.

Foreign Policy, which exclusively reported details of the yet-unreleased command investigation Wednesday, citing unnamed Navy officials, said another officer could be facing repercussions: Capt. Kyle Moses, commodore of Commander Task Force 56, which oversees 1,300 personnel, including coastal riverine forces, operating in the Middle East.

No administrative action regarding Cmdr. Greg Meyer, who commanded Coastal Riverine Squadron 3 at the time of the crisis, has been announced by the Navy.

U.S. Central Command has released some details about the hostage incident, saying the two riverine boats deviated course on their way to a refueling mission while transiting from Kuwait to Bahrain. When one boat reported a problem in a diesel engine, both boats stopped in Iranian waters to address it. How they ended up in Iranian waters and whether the ten sailors aboard the boats were aware of their location is unclear.

Foreign Policy reported that communications errors, insufficient training, and lax oversight by commanders were found by the investigation to have played a role in the international flap. In all, the publication reported, nine Navy personnel are under scrutiny in relation to the incident, six of them officers.

The State Department and the White House have lauded the work of senior officials, including Secretary of State John Kerry, in negotiating the return of the sailors to U.S. custody some 15 hours after their capture.

"These are always situations which, as everyone knows, if not properly guided, have an ability to get out of control," Kerry said in a Jan. 13 news conference. He added that the sailors appeared to have been well cared for during their captivity and assisted in their return to U.S. custody.

"I think we can all imagine how a similar situation might have played out three or four years ago," he said. "That is a testament to the critical role that diplomacy plays in keeping our country safe, secure and strong."

-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at hope.seck@monster.com. Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.

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