Washington: US President Donald Trump said that he has instructed the US Navy to destroy any and all Iranian gunboats if they harass US ships at sea.
“I have instructed the United States Navy to shoot down and destroy any and all Iranian gunboats if they harass our ships at sea,” Trump tweeted on Wednesday, without providing other details.
Later, senior Pentagon officials said the tweet was a lawful order though it did not mark a change in the rules of engagement.
“The President issued an important warning to the Iranians. What he was emphasizing is all of our ships retain the right of self-defense and people need to be very careful in their interactions to understand the inherent right of self-defense,” Deputy Defence Secretary David Norquist told reporters at the Pentagon, CNN reported.
Gen John Hyten, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the same briefing said the military will “apply that clear direction from the commander in chief into lawful orders” adding that is clear to Iran that there is a line they cannot cross that would provoke a response.
“We don’t need any more direction in order to do that. I think the President’s message was crystal clear and we don’t need any more actions,” he added.
Tensions sharply escalated in January when the US killed Iran’s second most powerful official, Gen Qasem Soleimani, and earlier this month, Trump claimed that his administration had information that “Iran or its proxies are planning a sneak attack on US troops and/or assets in Iraq.”
He warned of a “heavy price” to pay if such acts were carried out.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also commented on the tweet in a briefing at the State Department, saying the President has been clear to the State and Defense Departments “to do everything we need to do to make sure that we protect and defend our officers, our military officers, our diplomats around the world, to continue to ensure that they are secure and safe.