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Navy officer fired over Iran’s detention of 10 sailors

  • The Amphibious Command costal patrol ship USS Typhoon was underway in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility. The Navy has fired the commander of the 10 American sailors who wandered into Iranian territorial waters in the Persian Gulf and were captured and held by Iran for about 15 hours. (Petty Officer 2nd Class Jason Za, U.S. Navy via AP)

WASHINGTON » The Navy has fired the commander of the 10 American sailors who wandered into Iranian territorial waters in the Persian Gulf and were captured and held by Iran for about 15 hours.

In a statement today, the Navy said it had lost confidence in Cmdr. Eric Rasch, who was the executive officer of the squadron that included the 10 sailors at the time of the January incident. He was responsible for the training and readiness of the more than 400 sailors in the unit.

A Navy official said Rasch failed to provide effective leadership, leading to a lack of oversight, complacency and failure to maintain standards in the unit. The official was not authorized to discuss the details publicly so spoke on condition of anonymity.

Rasch has been relieved of his command duties and reassigned, the Navy said.

Although this is the first firing by the Navy regarding the incident, several other sailors received administrative reprimands. The investigation is expected to be finished by the end of the month, and others are likely to be disciplined.

Rasch was promoted to commander of the unit in April — after the Iran incident occurred, but before the preliminary investigation was done.

The sailors, nine men and one woman, were detained after their boat drifted into Iranian waters off Farsi Island, an outpost in the middle of the Persian Gulf that has been used as a base for Revolutionary Guard speedboats since the 1980s.

The sailors were on two small armed vessels, known as riverine command boats, on a 300-mile journey from Kuwait to Bahrain, where the Navy’s 5th Fleet is located. The incident, while brief, raised tensions between the U.S. and Iran because of images Iran published of the soldiers kneeling with their hands on their heads. It caused political uproar at home, too, coming on the day of President Barack Obama’s final State of the Union address and months after the signing of a deal with Iran to curb its nuclear program in exchange for relief from financial penalties.

Navy Capt. Gary Leigh, commander of Riverine Group 1, decided to fire Rasch after Leigh reviewed the initial investigation. A Navy official said no action has been taken, at least so far, against Cmdr. Greg Meyer, who was serving as commander of the squadron when the incident happened. He is no longer in a command job.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter said the sailors made a navigational error and went off course.

An initial account said the “planned transit path for the mission was down the middle of the Gulf and not through the territorial waters of any country other than Kuwait and Bahrain.”

That account said the crew stopped when a diesel engine in one of the boats appeared to have a mechanical issue. The second boat also stopped.

At this point they were in Iranian territorial waters, “although it’s not clear the crew was aware of their exact location,” the report said.

While the boats were stopped and the crew was trying to assess the mechanical problem, two small Iranian craft carrying armed personnel approached. Soon after, they were joined by two more Iranian military vessels. A verbal exchange ensued between the Iranians and Americans, but there was no gunfire.

The sailors had been scheduled to meet up with a U.S. Coast Guard ship, the Monomoy, in international waters to refuel. But about 10 minutes before the refueling was supposed to take place, the Navy headquarters in Bahrain got a report that Iranians were questioning the crew members.

Soon afterward, the Navy lost communications with the boats.

The Navy launched a large-scale search-and-rescue mission, but it is not clear whether the Americans had already been taken ashore on Farsi Island. The Iranians eventually told the U.S. that the 10 sailors were safe and healthy.

Secretary of State John Kerry, in a series of phone calls, used the personal relationship he has formed with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to work out the crews’ release. Kerry credited the quick resolution to the “critical role diplomacy plays in keeping our country secure and strong.”

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    • This story is so full incredibly stupid statements and questionable actions, it’s amazing the world had blindly accepted it at face value. oh wait, it’s the Obama administration, I forgot. BOTH bats had navigational errors? One boat breaks down, so BOTH went adrift? NONE of the sailors/officers thought to take the other in tow? How far off were these guys? Iran is not exactly ‘on the way’ towards Bahrain/Kuwait. Where were the larger surface ships? Did they lose all comms and detection of there own boats?? There are so many incredible impossibilities that simultaneously happened all at once it begs to be questioned by any HALF WIT journalists. Yea, the US journalists today are even worse than that.

    • Commanders Eric Rasch and Greg Meyer – – squadron CO and XO respectively – – won’t cut it in Silicon Valley if their security clearances are withdrawn on the recommendation of ComRivGru ONE. In that case these guys will be treated like pariahs. No company which has – – or is seeking for – – a high tech government contract will hire them.

      Questions abound.

      Who was SOPA (senior officer present afloat) in the gulf that day and what action – – if any – – did he take as this thing unraveled?

      Who were the regional engine and comms maintenance staff honchos and how is it all their stuff crapped out at the same time?

      Who was running the air breathing and low earth orbit look down surveillance systems for that area? DIA? NRO? SP? CIA? And what if anything did they do when our guys drifted into danger?

      Were there any AWACS or Hawkeye fixed wing assets aloft that might have been tasked to control a look see pass over the area of conflict?

      Was ANYONE in charge that day? If not, WHY not? If so, shouldn’t they be hung out to dry like these two hapless commanders?

  • The blame game and fall guy needed. The incident really should have been resolved with dignity as it could have been negotiated during Iran nuclear deal. Guess it was more important to close the one-sided deal in favor of the Iranian and for the POTUS legacy?

  • Hope that’ll teach those ice cream white boys at Annapolis to give real navigation courses again. Lord only knows why they stopped teaching celestial navigation and related skills. Too much digital equipment, not enough getting it done without fancy screens.

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