A US Navy ship fired warning shots at Iranian boats on Sunday near the Strait of Hormuz, US Defense officials said Monday.
Five Iranian vessels approached the USS Mahan and two other US ships that were entering the strait, according to accounts from four sources. The Strait of Hormuz is situated between the Gulf of Oman and the Persian Gulf.
The Mahan, a destroyer, fired warning shots and used radio calls, flares, bells and whistles to signal to the ships to stay away. There was no response to the radio calls. A US helicopter overhead dropped smoke grenades.
Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis said the boats came "within 900 yards or so" of the Mahan.
"It's somewhat out of character, recently anyway, from what we've seen out of Iran," Davis said.
Referring to other similar encounters, Davis said there had been "a total of 35 in 2016 that were assessed to be unsafe and unprofessional," and he added that "the vast majority of those were in the first half of 2016."
"We had a significant number of these before, they had largely stopped except, you know, this incident and in August seemed to be one-offs," he continued.
Warning shots were fired in that August incident, too.
The incident began with a routine shadowing by one regular Iranian navy ship as the Mahan; the USS Makin Island, an amphibious assault ship; and the USNS Walter Diehl, a replenishment oiler, began to enter the strait toward the Persian Gulf.
Four small inshore attack crafts began harassing the US ships, with six separate approaches by the Iranians over a nine-hour period, essentially the whole period of the transit, sources said.
Only one approach was deemed unprofessional, and that resulted in the firing of warning shots because they approached Mahan at a high speed.
The approach was at 15 to 20 knots and if not stopped at a distance of 500 yards or more could have been dangerous for the US ship, the sources said. As a result, defensive measures were taken.
During the interaction, Iran put up a small unmanned aerial vehicle.
Cmdr. Bill Urban with U.S. Naval Forces Central Command said the Mahan established radio communications with the four crafts from Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy and "issued multiple radio and visual warnings to remain clear."
He said the vessels sloughed off the warnings and "continued to directly approach Mahan at a high rate of speed," prompting "three warning shots with a crew-served .50-caliber machine gun."
The ships then "arrested their high-speed approach," Urban said.
Naval Forces Central Command regards the interaction "as unsafe and unprofessional" because of their "high-speed approach on Mahan with weapons manned."
The command cited the vessels' disregard for repeated warnings via radio, audible siren, and ships' whistle.
The incident is the latest tense encounter between the two countries in and over waters near Iran in recent months.
These brushes have included Iranian rocket launches, drones flying over US vessels and the capture of US sailors.
They've come against the backdrop of renewed US diplomatic contacts with Iran, which has triggered a political backlash among Iranian hardliners, including Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guard Corps.'
|US Navy Destroyer Fires 'Burst' of Warning Shots at Iranian Small Craft (ABC News)|
US Navy Destroyer Fires 'Burst' of Warning Shots at Iranian Small Craft
A US Navy destroyer fired a "burst" of warning shots at four Iranian small craft that were approaching at a high rate of speed, according to a U.S. defense official.
The destroyer, the USS Mahan, and other U.S. ships were traveling in the narrow Strait of Hormuz, heading into the Persian Gulf, when the incident occurred Sunday.
The Iranian craft were 890 yards away from the Mahan when the destroyer fired three rounds of warning shots, after which the Iranian craft backed away from the U.S. ship, the official said. Prior to the shots, the crew of the Mahan made repeated attempts to warn the Iranian craft, including by firing flares from the ship's deck and dropping smoke flares from a helicopter.
The defense official said the Iranian craft had contacted the Mahan via radio to ask for its hull number prior to the firing of the shots, then ceased voice communications entirely. However, another defense official told ABC News that after the Iranian craft backed away, they established radio communications with the Mahan to ask its course and speed.
"Naval Forces Central Command assesses this interaction as unsafe and unprofessional due to the IRGCN's [Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy] vessels high-speed approach on Mahan with weapons manned and disregard for repeated warnings via radio, audible siren, and ship's whistle, which only arrested following warning shots being fired," said Cmdr. Bill Urban, a spokesman for the U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, in a statement.
No one was injured in the incident.
While close encounters in the Persian Gulf between U.S. Navy ships and Iranian small craft are common, it’s rare that an American ship fires warning shots.
The only recent occurrence was in late August in the Persian Gulf when the USS Squall fired warning shots into the waters ahead of an speeding Iranian boat to warn the small craft that it had come as close as 200 yards to a U.S. Navy ship.
The Pentagon also called that encounter "unsafe and unprofessional."
During a September campaign stop in Florida, Donald Trump addressed Iran's naval aggression toward the U.S., saying an Iranian craft "will be shot out of the water."
“With Iran, when they circle our beautiful destroyers with their little boats, and they make gestures at our people that they shouldn’t be allowed to make, they will be shot out of the water, OK? Believe me," Trump told the crowd.
In the same speech, Trump promised to expand the U.S. Navy's fleet to 350 ships and to procure “modern destroyers.”
US Navy fires warning shots on approaching Iranian ships during incident in the Strait of Hormuz
A US Navy destroyer fired three warning shots at four Iranian fast-attack vessels after they closed in at a high rate of speed near the Strait of Hormuz, two US defense officials told Reuters on Monday.
The incident, which occurred Sunday and was first reported by Reuters, comes as US President-elect Donald Trump prepares to take office on Jan. 20. In September, Trump vowed that any Iranian vessels that harass the US Navy in the Gulf would be "shot out of the water."
The officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the USS Mahan established radio communication with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps boats but they did not respond to requests to slow down and continued asking the Mahan questions.
The Navy destroyer fired warning flares and a US Navy helicopter also dropped a smoke float before the warning shots were fired.
The Iranian vessels came within 900 yards (800 meters) of the Mahan, which was escorting two other US military ships, they said.
The IRGC and Trump transition team were not immediately available for comment.
Years of mutual animosity eased when Washington lifted sanctions on Tehran last year after a deal to curb Iran's nuclear ambitions. But serious differences still remain over Iran's ballistic missile program as well as conflicts in Syria and Iraq.
One official said similar incidents occur occasionally.
Most recently in August, another US Navy ship fired warning shots towards an Iranian fast-attack craft that approached two US ships.
In January 2016, Iran freed 10 US sailors after briefly detaining them in the Gulf.
The official added that the warning shots fired on Sunday were just one of seven interactions the Mahan had with Iranian vessels over the weekend, but the others were judged to be safe.