U.S. forces late Monday night foiled an Iranian attempt to capture an unmanned American vessel sailing the Persian Gulf, Pentagon officials said.
The U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet said in a statement Tuesday that an Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy (IRGCN) ship connected a towing line to an American Saildrone Explorer unmanned craft in an apparent attempt to seize the vessel. U.S. ships and helicopters responded, though it was not immediately clear whether any shots were fired. Iranian forces disconnected the towing line and eventually fled the area, U.S. officials said.
“IRGCN’s actions were flagrant, unwarranted and inconsistent with the behavior of a professional maritime force,” said Vice Adm. Brad Cooper, commander of U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, U.S. 5th Fleet and Combined Maritime Forces. “U.S. naval forces remain vigilant and will continue to fly, sail and operate anywhere international law allows while promoting rules-based international order throughout the region.”
The Saildrone Explorer did not store any classified or sensitive information, officials said.
The IRGCN action comes amid rising tensions between the U.S. and Iran. Over the past several weeks, militias with direct links to the IRGC have on multiple occasions targeted American troops stationed in Syria. The U.S. responded with a series of airstrikes on militia facilities and weapons depots.
U.S. military officials said Monday’s confrontation in the Persian Gulf was just the latest in a series of dangerous moves by Iran.
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“The professionalism and competence of the crew of the USS Thunderbolt prevented Iran from this illegal action. This incident once again demonstrates Iran’s continued destabilizing, illegal and unprofessional activity in the Middle East,” Gen. Michael “Erik” Kurilla, commander of U.S. Central Command, said in a statement.
Despite the growing hostilities, the Biden administration is forging ahead with diplomacy with Iran. The administration hopes to revive an Obama-era deal that limited Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for economic sanctions relief.