DoD News Briefing with Vice Adm. Cosgriff at the Pentagon, Arlington, Va.
Video - Three U.S. Navy Ships Approached by Iranian Boats:
Video - Long version (Three U.S. Navy Ships Approached by Iranian Boats):
BRYAN WHITMAN (Pentagon spokesman): Well, good afternoon, and thank you for joining us on short notice.
I'll apologize in advance for any of your colleagues that may have not received the word in time enough to get here, but we'll certainly make the transcript available to them after this.
With us this afternoon we have Vice Admiral Kevin Cosgriff. Many of you know the admiral. He is the commander of U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, and the commander of U.S. 5th Fleet, as well as the commander of the Combined Maritime Forces. And he took command of U.S. Naval Forces in February of last year. He is speaking to us today from the 5th Fleet Headquarters in Bahrain, and he's going to give us a brief update on some activities that have taken place today as well as yesterday and then a couple of your questions, but I warn you in advance that this will be fairly brief.
But with that, Admiral, let me turn it over to you.
ADM. COSGRIFF: Thank you, Bryan. I appreciate that.
Before I talk about the encounter in the Strait of Hormuz, I should report that earlier this evening local time in the Gulf we had a mid-air collision from two -- between two F-18 Super Hornets operating off the Harry S. Truman in the northern Arabian Gulf. Three aviators total were involved. The two aircraft were lost. The three aviators had been safely recovered aboard USS Harry S. Truman in good condition and are being checked out medically. So I want to give you that update that occurred. We'll get the -- the PAOs will get you the details on -- as they're available on squadrons and that sort of thing.
With respect to the encounter yesterday morning local time in the Strait of Hormuz, I think the facts are known to many of you. USS Port Royal, USS Hopper, USS Ingraham were in bound the Gulf via the Strait of Hormuz routine transit.
In the early hours of the morning, daylight hours of the morning, they were encountered by five total small high-speed craft that we assessed to belong the Iranian Revolutionary Guard navy. The five boats approached the formation on the formation's starboard bow in international waters slightly inside the gulf from the apex of the strait, broke into two groups, one to one side of the formation, one to the other. The groups maneuvered aggressively in the direction of the U.S. ships. They were called on radio; they were -- ships' whistles were sounded, those sorts of things, to draw attention to the fact that their maneuvers were a cause of concern to the commanding officers.
At one point during this encounter, we received a radio -- the ships received a radio call that was threatening in nature, to the effect that they were closing our ships and that the ships might -- the ships would explode, the U.S. ships would explode. Subsequently, two of these boats were observed dropping objects in the water, generally in the path of the final ship in the formation, the USS Ingraham. These objects were white box-like objects that floated, and obviously the ship passed by them safely.
The encounter continued, with the boats maneuvering close to stern and after -- under 30 minutes total, they returned in the direction from whence they came, to the north, back towards Iranian territorial waters.
So I would reiterate it was a transit passage in international waters incidental to a routine inbound transit of the Strait of Hormuz. The U.S. ships were clearly marked, at daylight, decent visibility. The behavior of the Iranian ships was, in my estimation, unnecessary, without due regard for safety of navigation and unduly provocative in the sense of the aggregate of their maneuvers, the radio call and the dropping of objects in the water.
I'd like to report that the training of our ships as they came in was more than satisfactory. They stepped through the procedures carefully, with good discipline, with due regard for all the factors, while at the same time taking the reasonable precautions to place their ships in conditions of readiness consistent with the environment in which they were entering. So I was very proud of their performance and the training they received.
So subject to that brief summary, I'm ready to take some questions.
MR. WHITMAN: Okay. Well, we've got a couple here.
Let me start with Bob Burns.
Q Admiral, this is Bob Burns from AP. Could you tell us how frequently in the recent past have Iranian National Guard -- or Republican Guard vessels intercepted U.S. ships in that area, and exactly how close were the U.S. ships to the Iranian territorial waters?
ADM. COSGRIFF: I'll answer the last first. We were at least 15 miles from Iranian-recognized land, so outside the 12-mile territorial waters, in international waters.
We routinely encounter Iranian navy and Iranian Revolutionary Guard ships on our operation in the gulf, including in and around the Strait of Hormuz. In fact, this group had passed an Iranian navy ship earlier in its transit and exchanged quite correct radio communication with that Iranian ship, and indeed had communicated again correctly with some Iranian shore stations and, for that matter, Omani shore stations, again following the procedures that we teach them to follow. So encounters with warships, of either the Revolutionary Guard navy or the regular navy, are not unusual.
MR. WHITMAN: Let's go to Jim.
Q Admiral, Jim Miklaszewski with NBC.
At any time, did any of the crew members radio to these five boats, warning that they could come under fire? And given the experience of the suicide bombing on the USS Cole, why did not any of these ships at least fire warning shots?
ADM. COSGRIFF: I think that without getting into the specifics of our tactics, it's fair for you and your readers and listeners to assume that we do have procedures that are measured. They are escalatory. Radio calls were made from the U.S. warships. They were not heeded. The ships were stepping through the procedures, including increased readiness, onboard readiness. It is the judgment of the commanding officer, in the totality of the situation, what the next step is to take and when to take it. In this case, the commanding officers did not believe they needed to fire warning shots.
Indeed, I should also say, this happened fairly quickly. So the time from when you might consider a radio call, to maybe some additional measures up to but before warning shots, transpired fairly quickly. But again they followed the procedures to the letter, and it was their judgment in the totality of the information they had in the situation, that warning shots were not necessary.
MR. WHITMAN: All right, let's go over to Tom.
Q Admiral, it's Tom Bowman with NPR.
We were told by one official here that one of the U.S. ships was close to firing. Is that true?
ADM. COSGRIFF: I've heard that report and I've not seen that report with my own eyes. But I've heard it basically on the news. I haven't talked to the CO of that particular ship yet, but close to means that he's working through a series of procedures. And again without going into detail what they are, in his mind, he might have been closing in on that point.
Q Admiral, it's Andrew Gray from Reuters.
Can you characterize how serious this incident was from your point of view?
Following off of Bob's question, have you known an incident as serious as this since you took command here?
ADM. COSGRIFF: Well, this particular body of water, no; this is more serious because of the aggregate of the actions, the coordinated movement of the ships, the boats, the aggressive maneuvering, the more or less simultaneous radio communication, the dropping of objects. So these are -- in my unnecessarily provocative -- in international waters incidental to a routine transit of a(n) internationally recognized strait. So yes, it's more serious than we have seen, but to put it in context, we do interact with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and their navy regularly. For the most part, those interactions are correct. We are familiar with their presence, they're familiar with ours. So I think in the time I've been here I've seen things that are a concern, and then there's periods of time -- long periods of time where there's not as much going on.
We will assess this now. This is a situation that the Iranians have developed, and we will assess this in the fullness of time as we continue our routine operations contributing to the security and stability of the maritime region in this part of the world.
MR. WHITMAN: Let's go to Jonathan and finish up with --
Q Sir, Jonathan Karl with ABC News. A couple of quick things. One, the Iranian Foreign Ministry is calling the action of these Iranian boats ordinary. I'm wondering if that -- what you say to that. And also, how concerned are you generally that the Iranians -- about the Iranians potentially acting in a provocative way so as to draw us into a confrontation that we do not want? I mean, how concerned are you that the Iranians are trying to basically provoke aggressive action by the U.S. Navy?
ADM. COSGRIFF: (Off mike) -- hypothetical, and I'll -- if you don't mind, I'll avoid it. But I am concerned with what I consider unnecessary and irresponsible maneuvering and behavior like this on the part of those patrol boats in, again, international waters in an area that's traversed by numerous ships of all nations peacefully day- in and day-out. And so, when they act that way, it raises the possibility of a miscalculation on their part that somebody might take it just too far as we are stepping through our procedures.
And as I've told my commanding officers, I take this incredibly seriously and I expect that commanding officers will successfully defend their ships and their crews at all times in this theater. It's important to remember we have been attacked by small high-speed boats in the Gulf, in the region -- the Cole -- and in the northern Gulf a few years ago. We have suffered casualties, and we take this deadly seriously.
So I expect that the commanding officers are going to follow their procedures and they're going to step through them with discipline, be measured, mindful of the totality of the information they have available to them. In this case, I couldn't be more proud that they did it right.
Q (Off mike) -- ordinary, the Iranian Foreign Ministry saying this was ordinary behavior by their boats?
ADM. COSGRIFF: I disagree.
Q Admiral, could you talk -- could you give us a brief timeline of the unfolding of events? Could you run through a little bit more of the details? And could you tell us how close the Iranian boats came to the U.S. vessels?
ADM. COSGRIFF: I won't be any more specific than say in a couple occasions they were less than 500 yards. They were maneuvering at high speed. The transit began about, as I recall, an hour and half to two hours before outside the Gulf, and they proceeded in through the Strait of Hormuz, had already headed westward after the apex of the Gulf -- of the Strait. This occurred just about 0800, 8 A.M. local time, and lasted for less than 30 minutes.
Q (Off mike) -- types of U.S. weapons they were preparing to use to destroy these boats if it had come to that?
ADM. COSGRIFF: I'm sorry. I didn't hear your question.
Q What types of weaponry were the U.S. preparing to use against the Iranians if it had reached that point?
ADM. COSGRIFF: We have a variety of self-defense weapons on our ships of various calibers, ranges and the like. I'm not going to go into details. They're slightly different for each ship, but they were more than sufficient for this environment, more than sufficient for this environment, and they would have been more than sufficient had they been necessary.
Q Sir, Tony Capaccio with Bloomberg News. A lot of people are going to wonder why was the U.S. Navy afraid of five small speed boats when the vessels encountered were fairly large and well- equipped. Can you give the public a sense of the potential damage these vessels, these even small vessels could have caused. Did they have any anti-ship missiles on them, for instance, or torpedoes?
ADM. COSGRIFF: Neither anti-ship missiles nor torpedoes, and I wouldn't characterize the posture of the U.S. 5th Fleet as afraid of these ships or these three U.S. ships afraid of these small boats. Our ships were making a normal transit of the Strait of Hormuz. They followed the procedures they've been trained to follow to increase their own readiness in the face of events like this, and as the Iranian behavior continued during this interaction, our ships stepped through there, increased readiness, the pace. And I didn't get the sense from the reports I was receiving that there was a sense of being afraid of these five boats. That said, we take the potential for a small craft to inflict damage against a larger ship seriously, and we would be irresponsible if we didn't.
MR. WHITMAN: Admiral, we do appreciate you coming on late this evening to share some of these details with us and to give us an update on the aircraft that went down this afternoon or this morning, I guess.
Before I bring it to a close, is there anything else that perhaps we should have asked you, that you want to add before we bring this to an end?
ADM. COSGRIFF: No, I appreciate your time.
It's worth reminding, again, your listeners and your readers that the United States' Navy has been here for 60 years. We expect to be here for decades to come. We are a force for security and stability in the region. We have lots of friends. We cooperate with our friends. We're in a maritime coalition of 19 nations.
We're proud to say that all 19 nations in that coalition comport themselves with due regard for international law and the convention of mariners recognized around the world with, in this case, one exception. And yesterday, the Revolutionary Guard demonstrated their capacity to act irresponsibly and, in my estimation, well out of the ordinary norms of what we would expect.
So hopefully they've learned from this that we're serious. We're going to stand on and conduct our routine peaceful operations and security operations and contributory operations the way we always have, and continue building a peaceful and stable gulf and surrounding region.
MR. WHITMAN: Well, again, thank you for your time this evening. We appreciate it and hope to talk to you soon, but maybe under different circumstances.
ADM. COSGRIFF: Thanks, Bryan.
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