Defense

Navy Report: Mission That Led To Capture Of US Sailors Was A Systemic Failure

REUTERS/Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Peter Lewis/U.S. Navy/Handout via Reuters

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Russ Read Pentagon/Foreign Policy Reporter

Military investigators released a scathing report Thursday detailing the systemic failure that led to Iran’s capture of U.S. Navy personnel in January.

There were failures at every level of command, from the tactical to the operational, according to the investigators. The report concluded that the crews of the Navy riverine command boats attempted to save time on their journey from Kuwait to Bahrain by cutting through Iranian waters. Investigators added that the crews were not prepared to properly evade the Iranians and were lacking in training.

“The RCB boat captains and crews were derelict in performing their duties to expected norms and standards,” said the report.

The report claimed that the crews went off course almost immediately after leaving Kuwait, and were completely lost by the time one of the boats suffered a mechanical failure.

“The boat crews could visually see Farsi Island, but were not concerned as they were unaware that it was Iranian or that they were in Iranian waters,” said the report.

Farsi Island is a small Iranian landmass located in the Persian Gulf southeast of Kuwait.

After being stranded in Iranian waters, the boat crews were captured by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Navy. Iran attempted to embarrass the U.S. by filming both the capture and a subsequent apology from one of the Navy sailors while he and his colleagues were in captivity.

The crews were held for approximately 16 hours until they were subsequently released.

The crews also engaged several other protocol violations while in captivity, according to the report, such as eating while being filmed and providing more information to their captors than is required.

Investigators also placed blame on upper-level Navy leaders. The crews were apparently only given 24 hours notice that they would be engaging in  the 250-nautical mile trip to Bahrain. Due to the short notice, they had to work through the night before leaving to prepare their boats.

In a Thursday press briefing at the Pentagon, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson noted that the incident was the result of the accumulation of small problems within Naval forces that patrol the Persian Gulf. He noted that the team in Kuwait was living with small problems that came back to bite them during the incident.

“The culture … [was] characterized by informality,” said investigators in the report. “They conducted no patrol briefings, and missions were supported by no formal mission analysis, standard planning factors, risk assessment, or overwatch.”

Richardson told reporters that the event was unacceptable, and that the incident will be used as a training example for future sailors. He said the Navy will make the expected standard “vividly clear” going forward.

The report noted that despite Navy protocol violations, the U.S. was not in violation of international law, the Iranians were not within their rights when they apprehended the sailors. Internatioak aritime law states that ships can pass through foreign territorial waters so long as they do not stop.

Two officers have already been relieved of their commands due to the incident. Capt. Kyle Moses, who was in charge of the task force that the crews operated under, was removed from his position last week. Cmdr. Erich Rasch, who headed the riverine crews, was relieved in May. The report recommended disciplinary or administrative action for some of the other crew members.

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