Iranian naval forces target laser on American military helicopter, US officials say
Stars and Stripes September 29, 2023
NAPLES, Italy — Iran’s military demonstrated unsafe and unprofessional behavior this week when it shined a laser at a U.S. helicopter flying in international airspace in the Persian Gulf, according to Navy officials.
No one was hurt in the Wednesday evening incident, and the AH-1Z Viper attack helicopter was not damaged, U.S. Naval Forces Central Command/U.S. 5th Fleet said in a statement Thursday.
The helicopter, which is assigned to the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, was performing routine operations when Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps navy vessels directed a laser at it several times, the statement said.
In August, more than 3,000 sailors and Marines arrived in the Middle East, part of a stepped-up push to counter Iranian interference with commercial shipping in the region.
The Bataan Amphibious Ready Group and the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit sailed into the region after Iran attempted to seize two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman in early July. In one of those cases, Iranian naval forces fired on one of the ships.
The attempted seizures were the latest in a string of Iranian actions to harass oil tankers, U.S. officials say. Iran counters that its actions were law enforcement efforts in response to infractions committed by the ships.
In late April, a Marshall Islands-flagged oil tanker headed to Texas was seized. In all, Iran has harassed, attacked or seized 20 commercial ships since 2021, the Navy has said.
Even so, an Iranian official said in August that the U.S. isn’t needed to provide security in the region. That followed a Reuters report in June in which Iranian naval commander Shahram Irani was quoted in Iranian media as saying the country planned to form its own naval alliance for regional security.
The U.S. helicopter involved in Wednesday’s incident is attached to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 162, deployed aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Bataan, the Navy said.