WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Navy said on Thursday that it had fired the commander of the 10 American sailors who wandered into Iranian territorial waters in the Gulf in January and were briefly held by Iran in an incident that risked becoming an international crisis.
The Navy said in a statement that it had lost confidence in Commander Eric Rasch, who was the executive officer of the coastal riverine squadron that included the 10 sailors.
Rasch became the first person to be publicly singled out after a preliminary investigation into the incident that occurred near Farsi Island in the Gulf.
A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that the commander of Navy forces in the Middle East had also taken non-judicial action against other sailors involved in the incident but declined to provide details.
Such administrative forms of punishment can include things like letters of reprimand and verbal counseling.
The Navy has not yet released the results of its investigation, but in February the military said the Americans had been intercepted on January 12 after the diesel engine in one of their boats developed a mechanical problem.
Two SIM cards were also pulled from the sailors’ satellite phones.
Iran’s supreme leader awarded medals to navy commanders for capturing U.S. sailors. Iranian media broadcast videos of the detainees, including scenes in which Revolutionary Guards personnel trained weapons on the sailors as they knelt.
Some 15 hours later the Americans were freed after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry intervened with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, averting a diplomatic crisis days before implementation of the Iran nuclear deal and the lifting of international sanctions on Tehran.
LACK OF OVERSIGHT, COMPLACENCY
Explaining Rasch’s dismissal, the U.S. official said he had demonstrated a failure to provide effective leadership, which led to a lack of oversight, complacency, and failure to maintain standards in the unit.
The Obama administration has said the sailors’ speedy release showed the power of diplomacy and the promise of its new engagement with Iran.
Republicans in Congress have been critical of the deal with Iran, and some have said the detainment of the sailors showed how little regard Iran had for the United States.
Reporting by Phil Stewart; Writing by Eric Beech and Phil Stewart; Editing by Chris Reese, Toni Reinhold
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