By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
Jan. 10, 2008 - U.S. defense officials were very disturbed by the actions of Iranian attack boats in the Straits of Hormuz on Jan. 6, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said here today, and he dismissed Iranian charges that U.S. officials doctored a videotape to make the Iranians look bad. The five Iranian boats "buzzed" three U.S. Navy warships transiting the straits into the Persian Gulf. The boats approached within 500 yards of the ships and appeared to drop boxes into the water in the path of the U.S. ships. Officials released a video showing the boats and recordings of the threatening radio messages the Iranian ships broadcast.
"I think that what concerned us was, first, that there were five of these boats, and the second, that they came as close as they did to our ships and behaved in what appeared to be a pretty aggressive manner," Gates said during a Pentagon news conference. "All of those things raise concerns."
Iranian officials said the United States fabricated the tapes. "With respect to ... the charges of fabrication, I think that the most appropriate answer is actually the one that I heard on television last night from former Secretary of Defense Bill Cohen, who said, 'Are you going to believe me or your lying eyes?'" Gates said. "I think that aptly characterizes and appropriately characterizes the Iranian claim."
The secretary said the Iranians engaged in similar incidents against U.S. ships last year, but the number of Iranian boats was fewer and their actions were not as aggressive.
Gates also addressed news reports that 3,000 Marines will flow into Afghanistan in coming months. He said there is a proposal making its way to him. "I have asked a number of questions that I expect to be answered before I make up my mind," the secretary said.
NATO countries had promised to man the force in Afghanistan but have not been as forthcoming with troops as expected, Gates said. He added that he does not want to take the pressure off NATO allies to fulfill their commitments, but he is committed to the alliance continuing to be successful in Afghanistan.
NATO needs to "continue to keep the Taliban on their back foot and (to ensure) that we defeat their efforts to try and come back," he said. "So these are all considerations that I think have to be taken into account before I make up my mind and make a recommendation to the president on this."
Gates said he expects the results of his decision will be announced soon.