Two US Navy Seals have been declared dead by military officials, 10 days after they went missing in the Gulf of Aden during a mission targeting Iranian weapons deliveries to the Houthi rebels in Yemen.
The Seals had been reported missing in the days following the mission, which took place on 11 January off the coast of Somalia. The purpose of the operation was not revealed by US Central Command (Centcom) at the time.
“We mourn the loss of our two Naval Special Warfare warriors, and we will forever honor their sacrifice and example,” said Centcom commander General Michael Erik Kurilla in a statement. “Our prayers are with the Seals’ families, friends, the US Navy, and the entire Special Operations community during this time.”
Ships and aircraft from the US, Spain and Japan searched more than 21,000 square miles of ocean for the missing Seals, the military said. They sought assistance from the Fleet Numerical Meteorology and Oceanography Center, the US Coast Guard Atlantic Area Command, the University of San Diego-Scripts Institute of Oceanography and the Office of Naval Research.
The mission has now become a recovery operation, Centcom said.
According to officials, the 11 January raid targeted an unflagged ship carrying illicit Iranian-made weapons to the Houthi rebels in Yemen. Officials have said that as the team was boarding the ship, one of the Seals went under in the heavy seas, and a teammate went in to try and save him.
The commandos had launched from the USS Lewis B Puller, a mobile sea base, and they were backed by drones and helicopters. They loaded onto small special operations combat craft driven by naval special warfare crew to get to the boat.
During the raid they seized an array of Iranian-made weaponry, including cruise and ballistic missile components such as propulsion and guidance devices and warheads, as well as air defence parts, Central Command said.
It marked the latest seizure by the US Navy and its allies of weapon shipments bound for the rebels, who have launched a series of attacks now threatening global trade in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden over Israel’s war on Hamas in the Gaza Strip. The seized missile components included types likely used in those attacks.
The US Navy ultimately sunk the ship carrying the weapons after deeming it unsafe, Central Command said. The ship’s 14 crew were detained.
Additional reporting by agencies