US releases photos to bolster claim Iran attacked tankers

(U.S. Department of Defense via AP)

The Pentagon has released new photos it says show that Iran’s Revolutionary Guard was responsible for attacks last week on two oil tankers near the Persian Gulf, as US officials announced 1,000 additional troops will be sent to the Middle East.

The images, many taken from a navy helicopter, show what the Pentagon said were Iranian forces removing an unexploded mine from the side of the Japanese-owned Kokuka Courageous oil tanker in the Gulf of Oman.

Officials last week said the move appeared to be an attempt to remove forensic evidence from the scene of the attack, but it is not clear if examination of the mine would have made it definitively clear that the device was planted by the Revolutionary Guard.

Other photos show a large hole on the side of the Courageous, above the water line, that officials say appears to have been caused by a similar mine.

Credit: US Department of Defence/AP

The release of the photos came as the US works to convince members of Congress and allies that the accusations against Tehran are true.

Iran has denied involvement in the tanker attacks and has accused America of promoting an “Iranophobic” campaign. However, Tehran has repeatedly threatened to close the vital Strait of Hormuz, through which 20% of the world’s oil flows.

The Pentagon is sending about 1,000 additional American troops to the Middle East as commanders try to bolster security for forces and allies in the region from what authorities say is a growing threat from Iran.

Officials said the deployment includes security forces and troops for additional surveillance and intelligence gathering in the region.

The troops are part of a broader military package of options initially laid out to US leaders late last month, totalling as much as 10,000 forces, Patriot missile batteries, aircraft and ships.

Secretary of state Mike Pompeo said he made a number of calls on Sunday and Monday to international leaders, trying to convince them that keeping the Strait of Hormuz safe and open is a problem they all must deal with.

Relations between the US and Iran have deteriorated in recent months, as the Trump administration restored crippling sanctions and designated the Revolutionary Guard as a foreign terrorist organisation.

That increased pressure preceded a string of attacks that the US has blamed on Iran.

In late May, four oil tankers off the coast of the United Arab Emirates were attacked with what appeared to be mines, and there was a rocket attack in Baghdad.

Last week, similar attacks were launched against the Courageous and the Norwegian-owned MT Front Altair in the Gulf of Oman.

The US military has also accused Revolutionary Guard troops of trying to shoot down a US drone to disrupt surveillance of the tankers during the attacks.