Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter admitted on Thursday that the U.S. sailors detained by Iran earlier this week had in fact strayed into Iranian waters by mistake.
According to the New York Times, Carter said the sailors were not on a covert mission and had known not to cross into Iranian sea territory but “obviously had misnavigated.”
Carter gave no other details about the incident, which the Navy is currently investigating. The ten sailors were detained on Tuesday after their two vessels went off course near Farsi Island, where Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps has a naval base.
An administration official told the Times that the situation “never entered the red zone” and that the Iranians had not behaved provocatively in phone calls with their American counterparts. Nonetheless, a retired admiral told the Times, the episode suggested a failure of oversight at Fifth Fleet headquarters in Bahrain.
The sailors spent Tuesday night in Iranian custody but were released promptly the next day along with their boats and cargo.
Despite its apparent nonseriousness, anti-Iran hawks in the U.S. were quick to paint a picture of the incident as an Iranian provocation, if not an outright hostile act. Many pointed to images and video Iran released of the soldiers’ detention, which the Washington Free Beacon, for example, characterized as “humiliating.”