The US military released a dozen photos as evidence that Iran is responsible for the oil tanker attacks, and is moving 1,000 additional troops to the Middle East.
On Monday, the Pentagon released roughly a dozen photos that more clearly show the crew of an alleged Iranian patrol boat removing – according to the US military – an unexploded limpet mine from the side of a damaged oil tanker after last week’s attacks.
Last Thursday, the tankers Kokuka Courageous and the Front Altair were damaged in attacks in the Gulf of Oman by explosive mines. Limpet mines attach themselves to ship hulls magnetically or using nails and can be detonated remotely or by timer.
Although none of the photos definitively show that the mines belong to Iran, they add to the evidence the US presented last week. Shortly following the attack, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said, "It is the assessment of the US government that Iran is responsible for today's attacks in the Gulf of Oman."
The photos reveal a large hole on the side of the Kokuka Courageous, just above the water line. The US military claims that the damage is consistent with limpet mines. However, one of the explosives failed to go off, and the crew abandoned ship with the help of the Dutch tug Coastal Ace and the US Navy destroyer USS Bainbridge when it was discovered.
Later, a US Navy MH-60R helicopter recorded suspected a Gashti-class patrol boat, allegedly belonging to the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), approaching the ship and removing the device, which is where most of the photos come from. Remnants of the device, along with possible fingerprints, were left on the ship’s hull.
The Front Altair sustained heavier damage since the explosion caused a fire aboard the ship.
The photos are presented as evidence as Congress and allies work to determine if the accusations are true. Iran has denied involvement and is accusing the US of promoting an "Iranophobic" campaign. But Iran has repeatedly threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz, where 20% of the world's oil flows through.
Iran also famously deployed mines in the Strait of Hormuz during the “Tanker Wars” in the 1980s. It was an effort to cut off the flow of oil moving through the area.
In the meantime, officials at the Pentagon said that about 1,000 additional troops will be sent to the Middle East to bolster security for forces and allies in the region in while growing intelligence gathering in the region. They are part of a broader military package of options that may grow to include as many as 10,000 forces, Patriot missile batteries, aircraft and ships.
Tensions between the US and Iran continue to grow as relations deteriorate. In recent months, the Trump administration reinstated sanctions against Iran, causing its economy to go into chaos. The US has also designed the Revolutionary Guard as a foreign terrorist organization.