Final Report on Iranian Seizure of U.S. Sailors Blames Chain of Failures

June 30, 2016 12:20 PM - Updated: July 1, 2016 11:54 AM
Riverine sailors detained by IRGCN forces on Jan. 12, 2016 off Farsi Island in the Persian Gulf.
Riverine sailors detained by IRGCN forces on Jan. 12, 2016 off Farsi Island in the Persian Gulf.

CLARIFICATION: According to additional information from the service, only two commanders were relieved of their commands related to the Farsi Island investigation — not three. The officer in charge of the Kuwait detachment of riverine boats served in a rotational capacity and could not technically be relieved of his command position. A total of nine service members have or will face administrative action or relief related to the report. 

THE PENTAGON – Lax standards, poor operational discipline and ignorance of the rules of engagement resulted in the capture of ten U.S. riverine sailors during a routine mission by Iranian forces in January, according to a newly released report on the incident.

The investigation found that crew of the two Riverine Command Boats were not adequately prepared for their short notice trip from Kuwait to Bahrain and several lapses in adhering to procedure found the crews with a disabled boat unaware they were about a mile-and-a-half away from an Iranian Republican Guard naval base.

The report claims the actions of the Iranian forces that intercepted the two RCBs were in violation of international law and acted excessively, however the crews did not fully understand the rules of engagement and had not set up an adequate force protection posture, “that left them with few realistic options to resist detention,” read the report.

Not only was the crew not prepared or trained adequately to perform their mission on Jan. 12 but the investigation also found a “can do/will do” leadership environment in the parent unit, “frequently compromised appropriate risk management and procedural compliance,” read a summary of the report.

While in custody, the Navy found at least one sailor violated code of conduct standards in statements that could be detrimental to the U.S.

The investigation has already resulted in the relief of Cmdr. Eric Rasch — the commander of the riverine squadron to which the two Riverine Command Boats belonged.

The Navy also relieved Capt. Kyle Moses, the commander of Task Force 56, and said he “demonstrated poor leadership by ordering the transit on short notice without due regard to mission planning and risk assessment,” read the report.
“He severely underestimated the complexity and hazards associated with the transit. He lacked questioning attitude, failed to promote a culture of safety, and disregarded appropriate backup from his staff and subordinate commands.”

A third unidentified officer has also been disciplined, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson told reporters on Thursday.

“There are six other people that are in the process of being [disciplined] right now…
Those sailors know that clearly those actions on that day in January and this incident did not live up to our expectations of our Navy.”

According to the report, the Kuwait detachment commander had instituted a culture of degraded maintenance, declining standards and poor morale.

The problems that led to the capture of the sailors were localized to the regional commands and the Navy found the riverine units “received adequate pre-deployment training.”

In addition to the nine firings, the Navy is also retooling a training regime for the service’s riverine sailors that will include in-person Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape training for all costal riverine forces that will deploy forward.

The Navy is also examining the roles and responsibilities of the Naval Expeditionary Combat Command (NECC) as a result of the investigation to see if it’s adequately manned and equipped to take on the range of responsibilities required of the command, USNI News understands.

Sam LaGrone

Sam LaGrone

Sam LaGrone is the editor of USNI News. He has covered legislation, acquisition and operations for the Sea Services since 2009 and spent time underway with the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps and the Canadian Navy.
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