WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said Tuesday that the evidence grows stronger every day that the alleged mine attacks of June 13 on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman were carried out by highly trained Iranian military forces.
Air Force Gen. Paul Selva said the fact the two Japanese and Norwegian-owned carriers were underway at the time of the attacks spoke to the skill of the attackers.
"As a military person, getting alongside a vessel under the cover of darkness to attach a mine underway, is not an insignificant effort," Selva told a group of defense reporters at a Defense Writers Group breakfast.
"So, it wasn't done by an untrained ... unsophisticated group of people," he said. "It was done by a military-trained and capable force."
Selva's comments come one day after the Pentagon ordered 1,000 more troops to the region as tension over that attacks continues to rise.
"The tension is real ... Iran is lashing out; they are not lashing out against the United States, they are lashing out against the international community," Selva said, describing how the Iranian Regime has been under "significant pressure, both economically and politically to come to the table to negotiate a deal on nuclear weapons and malign activities."
"We have to be cautious," he added, "that we respond only as appropriate, so what we have done is deploy to the region forces that allow us to beef up the defenses of our own forces."
The additional deploying forces are intended mainly to support U.S. troops already deployed in Iraq that are assisting the Iraqi government drive out members of ISIS and other terrorist groups, Selva said.
"So, the forces we have deployed forward are designed to provide a defense for those forces -- to provide surveillance and reconnaissance that helps give us indications and warnings ... forces that can provide overhead coverage and forces that can respond, if required, to an attack against our forces," he said.
Selva, who is retiring this summer, acknowledged that there is evidence that the "Iranians believe that we won't respond" if attacked.
"That is why we have been very clear in our message that if they directly engage U.S. forces or they directly engage U.S. interests or citizens in the region, that we will respond," he said. "It is a fair assessment that our history in the region is we have threatened to respond but not responded -- that would be a miscalculation on the part of the Iranians to believe that that is going to persist."
To bolster its case against Iran, the Pentagon released images that Defense Department officials allege show Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps members in a boat after they removing what appears to be an unexploded mine from the side of a tanker.
"The fact that they were able to quickly and safely remove a mine from the side of a ship would indicate that it was of their own design, of their own emplacement and they took it into their custody, so it wouldn't be available as evidence that they perpetrated the attack," Selva said.
"Point of fact is they are under significant pressure, the attacks themselves are not alleged, they are real. The only perpetrator in the area that has a motive to perpetrate them is Iran. The evidence points toward Iran."
-- Matthew Cox can be reached at email@example.com.