U.S. Says Video Shows Iranian Forces Removing Dud Mine From Damaged Tanker (Updated)

Images also show what appears to be an undetonated magnetic mine attached to the hull of the tanker not far from where another one exploded. 

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We have been following developments in the Gulf of Oman very closely and keeping you updated moment to moment since word of an incident occurring there began spreading nearly a day ago. After Secretary Of State Mike Pompeo accused Iran of launching the attacks on two tankers transiting the area, U.S. Central Command has now released impressive video and photographic evidence that appears to show an Iranian Navy or Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps fast boat going back to remove a dud limpet mine from the Kokuka Courageous's damaged hull. That move alone is incredibly brazen considering the amount of attention and subsequent surveillance on the stricken vessels the attacks prompted. 

Here is the video:

In addition, USS Bainbridge, a U.S. Navy Arleigh Burke class destroyer on the scene, snapped this photo showing one of the mines undetonated and still attached to the hull:

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According to the Navy, the go-fast boat pulled up to the ship and detached the dud mine some nine hours after the first distress call from the tanker came in. 

This appears to be a bizarrely brazen move by the Iranians. The small boat, which also packed a ZU-23 23mm autocannon, was likely tracked back to its place of origin after removing the mine. According to our sources, American helicopters, drones, and a P-8 Poseidon was overhead the area throughout the day, and that's not to mention surface and subsurface assets and those of U.S. allies in the vicinity. 

Also, the speed boat was relatively packed with people. This is so odd for such a risky mission. Maybe their commander told them they are better off risking grabbing their mistake than leaving it in place and suffering the internal consequences. 

An official Navy release reads:

"Twenty-one mariners from the M/V Kokuka Courageous, who abandoned ship,
were rescued and are currently aboard USS Bainbridge.

USS Bainbridge remains in close contact with the M/V Kokuka Courageous and
is the on-scene U.S. command authority.  No interference with USS
Bainbridge, or its mission, will be tolerated.  

USS Mason (DDG 87) is en route to the scene to provide assistance.

The U.S. and our partners in the region will take all necessary measures to
defend ourselves and our interests.  Today's attacks are a clear threat to
international freedom of navigation and freedom of commerce.  The U.S. and
the international community stand ready to defend our interests, including
freedom of navigation. This is a threat to maritime shipping and
international commerce.

The U.S. and our regional partners are assisting in the response to attacks
in the Gulf of Oman.  The U.S. and the international community, stand ready
to defend our interests, including freedom of navigation.

We have no interest in engaging in a new conflict in the Middle East.  We
will defend our interests, but a war with Iran is not in our strategic
interest, nor in the best interest of the international community."

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"U.S. Naval Forces in the region received two separate distress calls at 6:12 a.m. local time and a second one at 7:00 a.m.

U.S. Naval Forces Central Command received the calls from the M/V Front Altair and M/V Kokuka Courageous, who were operating in international waters of the Gulf of Oman.

USS Bainbridge (DDG 96) was operating in the vicinity and provided immediate assistance to the M/V Kokuka Courageous.

Twenty-one mariners from the M/V Kokuka Courageous, who abandoned ship, are currently aboard USS Bainbridge. A Navy P-8 is also providing support."

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Now the big question is, if the guys in this boat were indeed connected directly with Iran as they seem to have been, was this ordered and executed through official Iranian military channels? Was it the work of the hardline IRGC and did they do it under traditional order or are we seeing some sort of a fracture here within the Iranian command structure? Looking at Iran's military as anything near a monolithic entity at this point while trying to gauge motive here is a dubious affair. 

Until we know more, it is still possible that another explanation is feasible, but that is becoming a far more remote possibility as time goes on and new information emerges. To be frank, trying to evaluate alternatives to Iran having some hand in this is a rabbit hole of epic proportions, although one that isn't entirely irrelevant considering the power players in the region, the various agendas at play, and the tensions that have been boiling for some time. 

We will continue to update this post as more information comes available.

UPDATE: 7:40pm PDT—

The Navy has posted a full timeline of events:

U.S. Naval Forces in the region received two separate distress calls at 6:12 a.m. local time from the motor tanker (M/T) Altair and a second one at 7a.m. local time from the M/T Kokuka Courageous.

Both vessels were in international waters in the Gulf of Oman approximately 10 nautical miles apart at the time of the distress calls. USS Bainbridge was approximately 40 nautical miles away from the M/T Altair at the time of the attack, and immediately began closing the distance.

At 8:09 a.m. local time a U.S. aircraft observed an IRGC Hendijan class patrol boat and multiple IRGC fast attack craft/fast inshore attack craft (FAC/FIAC) in the vicinity of the M/T Altair.

At 9:12 a.m. local time a U.S. aircraft observes the FAC/FIAC pull a raft from the M/T Altair from the water.

At 9:26 a.m. local time the Iranians requested that the motor vessel Hyundai Dubai, which had rescued the sailors from the M/T Altair, to turn the crew over to the Iranian FIACs. The motor vessel Hyundai Dubai complied with the request and transferred the crew of the M/T Altair to the Iranian FIACs.

At 11:05 a.m. local time USS Bainbridge approaches the Dutch tug Coastal Ace, which had rescued the crew of twenty-one sailors from the M/T Kokuka Courageous who had abandoned their ship after discovering a probable unexploded limpet mine on their hull following an initial explosion.

While the Hendijan patrol boat appeared to attempt to get to the tug Coastal Ace before USS Bainbridge, the mariners were rescued by USS Bainbridge at the request of the master of the M/T Kokuka Courageous. The rescued sailors are currently aboard USS Bainbridge.

At 4:10 p.m. local time an IRGC Gashti Class patrol boat approached the M/T Kokuka Courageous and was observed and recorded removing the unexploded limpet mine from the M/T Kokuka Courageous (video attached).

The U.S. and our partners in the region will take all necessary measures to defend ourselves and our interests. Today's attacks are a clear threat to international freedom of navigation and freedom of commerce.

The U.S. and the international community, stand ready to defend our interests, including the freedom of navigation.

The United States has no interest in engaging in a new conflict in the Middle East. However, we will defend our interests.

U.S. Central Command Statement on June 13 Limpet Mine Attack in the Gulf of Oman, attributable to Capt. Bill Urban, Lead Spokesman for U.S. Central Command.

So this basically states the IRGC executed this mission. Once again, are we seeing a fissure in the already convoluted and questionable Iranian military command structure, or was this very nefarious operation ordered by the highest levels of the Iranian government?

It will also be very interesting to see how the Iranians try to spin this. Will they claim they have no idea who the people are in the video or that they did this out of concern for the vessel?

Let us know your thoughts in the discussion area below.

Contact the author: Tyler@thedrive.com