“We are conducting an exhaustive search for our missing teammates” – General Michael Erik Kurilla, USCENTCOM Commander.
by Susan Katz Keating
While rescue teams desperately searched for two missing U.S. Navy SEALs in the Gulf of Aden last week, other SEALs pressed on with their mission to capture a vessel that was bound for Somalia with Iranian missile parts on board, a defense official told Soldier of Fortune. The missile parts ultimately were headed to the Houthi terrorists in Yemen.
“These parts were from Iran, and would go toward building medium-range ballistic missiles,” the official said.
Officials at U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) on Tuesday gave details of the mission, and confirmed that the two missing SEALs were part of that effort.
“On 11 January 2024, while conducting a flag verification, U.S. CENTCOM Navy forces conducted a night-time seizure of a dhow conducting illegal transport of advanced lethal aid from Iran to resupply Houthi forces in Yemen as part of the Houthis’ ongoing campaign of attacks against international merchant shipping,” CENTCOM said in a statement on Jan. 16.
“Two U.S. Navy SEALs previously reported as lost at sea were directly involved in this operation,” CENTCOM said.
The transport vessel, a dhow, was known to the U.S. Navy for smuggling weapons into Somalia, the official said. The official is not authorized to communicate with the media, and spoke to Soldier of Fortune on condition of anonymity.
“This is 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,” according to U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM). “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.”
READ MORE: Search Continues for Two Navy SEALs Missing From Night Mission Off Coast of Somalia
The SEALs launched the Jan. 11 maritime interdiction operation (MIO) from a floating base, the USS Lewis B. Puller. That ship is assigned to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations. The SEALs embarked in rough seas during a lunar phase known as the new moon, when the nighttime skies are darkest.
Supported by helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), the SEALs executed a complex boarding of the dhow in international waters of the Arabian Sea, CENTCOM said.
The SEALs proceeded to climb aboard the dhow, using a caving ladder. One SEAL was knocked off the ladder by a high wave. A second SEAL immediately jumped in to save the first. Both disappeared amid the turbulent waves, the civilian official said.
While a search mission was underway, others on the team boarded the dhow. Acting under international law, they searched the vessel. The SEALs took the crew into custody, and confiscated the missile parts. With the Americans and their prisoners safely off the dhow, the SEALs sank the vessel.
Seized items include propulsion, guidance, and warheads for Houthi medium range ballistic missiles (MRBMs) and anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCMs), as well as air defense associated components.
“Initial analysis indicates these same weapons have been employed by the Houthis to threaten and attack innocent mariners on international merchant ships transiting in the Red Sea,” CENTCOM said.
With the Americans and their prisoners safely off the dhow, the SEALs sank the vessel.
“It will not smuggle any more weapons to Somalia or anywhere else,” the official said.
The CENTCOM commander said that as of Tuesday, the search for the lost SEALs continues.
“We are conducting an exhaustive search for our missing teammates,” said General Michael Erik Kurilla, USCENTCOM Commander.
The waters in the Gulf of Aden are warm, and Navy SEALs are trained to endure long periods of time in the ocean, an official said.
“For operational security purposes, we will not release additional information until the personnel recovery operation is complete,” CENTCOM wrote in a statement.