DoD Officials Refute Claims Iranian Military Forced Marine, Navy Helicopters to Divert Course

August 21, 2023 5:32 PM
USS Bataan (LHD-5) transiting the Strait of Hormuz on Aug. 17, 2023. Fars News Image

THE PENTAGON – U.S. officials pushed back against claims that the Iranian military forced Navy and Marine helicopter to make emergency landings during a transit of the Strait of Hormuz last week.

Deputy Pentagon Press Secretary Sabrina Singh told reporters Monday she had not seen footage of Iranian assets allegedly forcing the helicopter to land, but she said all reports of a U.S. asset being intercepted or forced to land were false.

“We’ve seen this from them before pushing out, I don’t know if it’s propaganda, but I would say like, untrue statements, and that just is not accurate,” she said.

In heavily edited footage released by the state-controlled Fars News Agency, several Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy fast inshore patrol craft move alongside the three ships while at least two surveillance drones monitor the transit.

The video includes audio of an IRGCN representative claiming the helicopters escorting the three ships were in violation of Iranian territorial waters. The footage includes images of Marine UH-1Y Venom and AH-1 Viper attack helicopters and at least one U.S. Navy MH-60S Knight Hawk helicopter aloft during the transit. The voice captured in the footage threatened to fire on the helicopters if they did not land.

Singh’s comments follow the Sunday release of unmanned aerial and surface footage from the transit of amphibious warship USS Bataan (LHD-5), USS Carter Hall (LSD-50) and guided-missile destroyer USS Thomas Hudner (DDG-116) into the Persian Gulf on Aug. 17.


A MH-60S Knight Hawk seen by an Iranian drone on Aug. 17, 2023. Fars News Image

The Bataan ARG includes Amphibious Squadron 8, Fleet Surgical Team 8, Tactical Air Control Squadron 21, Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 26, Assault Craft Unit 4 and Beach Master Unit 2. The 26th MEU(SOC), based at Camp Lejeune, N.C., includes Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 6th Marines; Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 162 (Reinforced); and Combat Logistics Battalion 22.

Bataan and Carter Hall were routed to U.S. Central Command in July to bolster U.S. presence in the region. Bataan’s presence in the Persian Gulf is the first U.S. capital ship to operate in the Persian Gulf since late 2021 – more than a year and a half – since USS Essex (LHD-2) left the region after supporting the American withdrawal from Afghanistan.

The move to build up naval forces comes as the IRGCN has moved to interdict more merchant traffic.

“We’ve continued to see Iran or the IRGC disrupting the free flow of commerce within the region, which is why the secretary [of Defense] made the decision that he did to deploy capabilities and more forces into the region to disrupt the IRGC from continuing its activity within the Strait of Hormuz,” Pentagon spokesperson Singh said last week.

As part of the Bataan deployment, U.S. trained teams of about 20 Marines from the MEU to ride commercial ships as a deterrent to Iranian harassment, USNI News reported last week.

“They were flown off the ships in Europe and arrived in Bahrain for training as ship security teams, and additional teams of sailors already deployed or stationed in the U.S. Central Command region were undergoing the training,” a U.S. official told USNI News earlier this month.

The Pentagon has not confirmed any additional details of the plan to put Marines on commercial ships.

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.
Follow @samlagrone

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