U.S. sailors straying into Iranian waters was a "mistake," Defense Secretary Ash Carter said today, noting that a "navigation error" was ultimately to blame.
In a interview with Fusion's Jorge Ramos, Carter said he was "grateful" the sailors had been returned safely after being detained by Iranian Revolutionary Guard Forces overnight Tuesday.
"It does appear from the information that they have given through their commanders that they did stray into Iranian waters due to a navigation error," Carter said.
The crew, operating two small Navy Riverine boats, was on a routine trip between Kuwait and Bahrain when the Iranians approached and eventually boarded the U.S. vessels, U.S. officials said. Carter denied the U.S. sailors were on any sort of covert mission when they were found near Iran's secretive Farsi Island in the middle of Persian Gulf.
A Navy official told ABC today that there was a U.S. Navy search boat looking for them after they went missing. But Carter said the sailors never reported their navigational error to the Navy.
"It may be that they were trying to sort it out at the time they encountered the Iranian boats," Carter said.
When asked about the sailors and their level of training, Carter suggested they should have known better than to be there. “They were aware that they should not get into Iranian territorial waters,” Carter said. When they were eventually released by the Iranians, the boats made their way back to the Guided Missile Destroyer USS Anzio, which was waiting for them nearby.
Navy pic of Riverine boats return to US Destroyer Anzio in Gulf yesterday. SecDef Carter blamed "navigational error" pic.twitter.com/aflukTp2rG— Justin Fishel (@JustinFishelABC) January 14, 2016
Carter also expressed frustration about the video released by Iranian TV purporting to show the 10 American sailors kneeling on the deck of their ship with their hands over their heads.
“I don’t like to see our guys in the custody of someone else," Carter said of the video. He added the U.S. would have never made a video like that if the situation had been reversed.