US naval commander demoted over Iran incident
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The officer in charge of 10 US sailors who were briefly captured by Iran in the Persian Gulf was relieved of his command, the Navy announced.
Commander Eric Rasch “was relieved due to a loss of confidence in his ability to command,” the Navy said in a statement, adding he has been temporarily reassigned to a new role.
The decision is the first time a sailor has been held publicly accountable after two US riverine patrol boats veered off course into Iranian territorial waters off Farsi Island in the Gulf.
Navy spokesman Lieutenant Commander Tim Hawkins said other sailors have also been held accountable, but he would not say who these were because the incident remains under investigation.
“The commander of US Fifth Fleet took administrative action involving personnel assigned under his authority,” Hawkins told AFP.
“Administrative action can range from verbal counselling to a formal letter of reprimand.”
The Navy probe is expected to be wrapped up by the end of the month and will be released publicly soon after.
Though the sailors were held for less than 24 hours, the incident was a major embarrassment for the US Navy and President Barack Obama.
The United States carefully avoided escalating the situation, maintaining a conciliatory tone with Tehran days ahead of the implementation of a historic international deal over Iran’s nuclear program.
Iranian media broadcast humiliating images of the American sailors during their detention, showing them kneeling on their boats at gunpoint with their hands on their heads.
The US military says the incident was caused by navigational and mechanical problems.