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IRGC Navy Claims Nine Sailors Killed in Clashes With United States

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IRGC attack boats (Mehr News / CC BY SA 3.0)

Published Nov 21, 2021 11:38 PM by The Maritime Executive

The top naval officer in Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) claims that nine of his service's sailors have been killed in clashes with the U.S. Navy - a rare report of fatalities from direct confrontation between the two naval forces.

In a speech at the former U.S. Embassy complex in Tehran on Sunday, Adm. Alireza Tangsiri said that some of the encounters between U.S. and Iranian naval units have gone unreported. Without specifying the timing, number or location of these battles, he said that IRGC casualties from run-ins with the United States include a total of nine deaths - and that the IRGC has responded nine times.

"We have slapped the Americans on the number of martyrs of the IRGC Navy in a direct battle with the United States in the Persian Gulf, although the reports of many Iranian-American clashes in the Persian Gulf have not been released," Adm. Tangsiri told state-owned outlet Tehran Times. "For nine martyrs in a direct battle with the Americans, we were able to give them nine memorable slaps."

Over the years, the U.S. Navy has reported many close approaches by IRGC attack boats in the Strait of Hormuz, including incidents in which U.S. warships fired flares and warning shots to ward off the encroaching units. Neither side has ever reported a fatality in these low-level confrontations, though the U.S. Navy has warned the IRGC of the potential consequences for "unsafe and unprofessional" behavior on the water. 

A higher-intensity confrontation occured on October 24, when a U.S. Navy destroyer approached a crude oil tanker that had been boarded by IRGC forces in the Persian Gulf. The circumstances of the boarding are disputed, but Iranian units ultimately seized and diverted the Vietnamese-owned tanker, with support from a flotilla of IRGC attack boats. The U.S. Department of Defense said in a statement that it monitored the boarding but did not intervene.

Deadlier naval incidents have also been reported in the region over the past few years, but all have been attributed to Iranian actions. A drone strike on the tanker Mercer Street in August claimed two civilian lives; reports suggest that it was carried out by Iranian-backed Houthi rebels. Separately, a missile strike on an Iranian Navy warship in the Gulf of Oman killed 19 Iranian servicemembers in May 2020, but Iranian media reported that it was a friendly-fire incident from a weapons test gone awry.

The Iranian Navy suffered another major blow in June when a severe fire sank its largest vessel - the training and support ship Kharg - during an exercise off the port of Jask. About 20 injuries were reported, but no fatalities, and the casualty was officially attributed to an engine room fire.

The last major naval confrontation between Iran and the U.S. occurred in April 1988, when U.S. Navy forces sank the Iranian destroyer Sahand and four smaller vessels. The strike was in retaliation for Iran's use of naval mines in the Persian Gulf; an Iranian mine had badly damaged the frigate USS Samuel B. Roberts during an escort mission four days earlier.