After ten days of a search and rescue mission over waters in the Arabian Sea, the US military has issued a major update on the two Navy Seals which went missing on January 11 while part of a nighttime boarding mission of a foreign vessel found to be covertly transporting Iranian-made missile components.
US Central Command (CENTCOM) has belatedly announced the death of the two Seals. “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,” a statement issued Sunday indicated. “Out of respect for the families, no further information will be released at this time.”
It explained that teams from the US, Spain, and Japan undertook an expansive search that included over 21,000 square miles in the attempt to locate the elite operators.
“We mourn the loss of our two brave Navy SEALs, and our hearts are with their families,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a statement Sunday. “The entire Department is united in sorrow today. We are grateful to all who worked tirelessly to try to find and rescue them.”
Earlier military statements indicated the Seal team was approaching a dhow in an interdiction mission. The Seal team was “supported by helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs)” and “executed a complex boarding of the dhow near the coast of Somalia in international waters of the Arabian Sea,” per CENTCOM’s initial release on the incident.
One Seal went overboard after being hit by a large wave, and another immediately went in after him, but was also quickly lost at sea. The fact that they went overboard in the dark would made it impossible for rescuers to locate them in the rough waters.
Days after the tragic incident, the military said that Iranian-made ballistic missile and cruise missiles components were seized from the vessel, and included “warheads for Houthi medium range ballistic missiles (MRBMs) and anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCMs).”
When the incident was initially reported, most news reports assumed or strongly suggested it may have been related to stopping Somali piracy. It was at first only reported that the vessel was deemed “suspicious” by the US Navy and so was approached by the Seal team.
Incredible haul of weapons including ballistic missiles and warheads being sent form Iran to Houthi rebels is revealed after US Navy SEALs seized dhow during daring night raid off Somalia’s coast as search for two seamen lost in mission continues https://t.co/VaZnxtaK6Y pic.twitter.com/qwkF1WjEiU
— Daily Mail Online (@MailOnline) January 16, 2024
But details since then affirmed that the seized components were likely intended to bolster “warheads for Houthi medium range ballistic missiles (MRBMs) and anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCMs).”
Some commentators have considered the deceased Seals to be the first US military deaths connected to the Gaza war, and the spillover conflict in the Red Sea. However, the US Navy has already long been involved in intercepting vessels in regional waters suspected of transporting Iranian weapons. Yet there’s no doubt that US patrols in these waters have stepped up significantly in the last months connected to Houthi attacks and Iranian support activity.