The U.S. military said on Sunday that it had declared two Navy SEALs dead after they went missing 10 days ago during an operation at sea to intercept weapons from Iran headed to Houthi fighters.
They are among the first known U.S. fatalities in Washington’s campaign against the Houthis, who have launched dozens of attacks on ships in the Red Sea since November, roiling the global shipping industry.
In recent weeks, the United States and its allies have launched a barrage of strikes on the Houthis inside Yemen, in a bid to deter future attacks on vessels in the Red Sea. The episode involving the SEALs occurred in the Arabian Sea, off the coast of Somalia on Jan. 11. During that nighttime commando mission, according to the U.S. military, American troops boarded a small boat, called a dhow, and seized weapons including Iranian made ballistic-missile and cruise-missile components bound for Yemen.
As the commandos tried to board the dhow in rough seas, one member appeared to slip off the boarding ladder or was swept away by a high wave, one current and one former Pentagon official, who were briefed on the incident, said earlier this month. Another jumped into the water to try to save the first officer, but both disappeared below the waves.
The military conducted what it called was an “expansive” operation to find the two commandos, searching more than 21,000 square miles.
“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,” the U.S. Central Command said in a statement on Sunday. It did not release the names of the deceased.
The mission led to the first seizure by U.S. forces of Iran-supplied weapons since the Houthis started attacking ships in the Red Sea, the U.S. military said in a statement last week. Initial analysis indicated that the same weapons — including warheads for medium-range ballistic missiles and anti-ship cruise missiles — had been used by the Houthis to launch strikes on vessels in the Red Sea, according to the statement.
The Iran-backed Houthis have said they are protesting the killing of Gazans by Israel and that their actions are in solidarity with Palestinians.