The U.S. military has ended its search for two Navy SEALs after they went missing during a mission in the Arabian Sea to interdict Iranian weapons headed for Yemen, U.S. Central Command (Centcom) said Sunday.
“We regret to announce that after a 10-day exhaustive search, our two missing U.S. Navy SEALs have not been located and their status has been changed to deceased,” the command said in a statement.
“The search and rescue operation for the two Navy SEALs reported missing during the boarding of an illicit dhow carrying Iranian advanced conventional weapons Jan. 11 concluded and we are now conducting recovery operations,” it said.
“We mourn the loss of our two Naval Special Warfare warriors, and we will forever honor their sacrifice and example. Our prayers are with the SEALs’ families, friends, the U.S. Navy, and the entire Special Operations community during this time,” said Army Gen. Michael Kurilla, Centcom commander.
According to the Associated Press, the SEALs were part of a raid on an unflagged ship carrying illicit Iranian-made weapons to Houthi forces in Yemen. Officials told the outlet that one of the SEALs had fallen into the sea during boarding and another SEAL went in after him to try to save him.
CENTCOM Status Update on Missing U.S. Navy Seals— U.S. Central Command (@CENTCOM) January 21, 2024
We regret to announce that after a 10-day exhaustive search, our two missing U.S. Navy SEALs have not been located and their status has been changed to deceased. The search and rescue operation for the two Navy SEALs reported… pic.twitter.com/OAMbn1mwK8
The pair began their mission while Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was still in hospital being treated for complications from surgery for prostate cancer.
They had boarded from small special operations combat craft launched from the USS Lewis B. Puller, a mobile sea base, officials said. They were supported by drones and helicopters.
Centcom said the mission was conducted at night, near the coast of Somalia. During the mission, SEALs seized Iranian-made ballistic missile and cruise missile components. Seized items included propulsion, guidance, and warheads for Houthi medium range ballistic missiles and anti-ship cruise missiles — which the Houthis have used to target U.S. military and commercial ships in the Red Sea.
Centcom said on January 16 called the mission the “first seizure of lethal, Iranian-supplied advanced conventional weapons (ACW) to the Houthis since the beginning of Houthi attacks against merchant ships in November 2023.”
“The interdiction also constitutes the first seizure of advanced Iranian-manufactured ballistic missile and cruise missile components by the U.S. Navy since November 2019. The direct or indirect supply, sale, or transfer of weapons to the Houthis in Yemen violates U.N. Security Resolution 2216 and international law,” it added.
U.S. Navy forces sunk the unflagged vessel afterwards and detained the 14 crewmembers. “Disposition of the 14 dhow crewmembers is being determined in accordance with international law,” it said.
Kurilla said of the seizure, “It is clear that Iran continues shipment of advanced lethal aid to the Houthis. This is yet another example of how Iran actively sows instability throughout the region in direct violation of U.N. Security Resolution 2216 and international law.”
“We will continue to work with regional and international partners to expose and interdict these efforts, and ultimately to reestablish freedom of navigation,” he said.