2 Navy SEALs Missing off Somalian Coast

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The missing sailors were Navy SEALs on a mission to intercept the flow of weapons to Yemen, according to a US official.

Two U.S. Navy SEALs went missing off the coast of Somalia last week while on a mission to board a ship suspected of carrying Iranian weapons for Houthi-controlled Yemen, according to a defense official.

U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) said on Jan. 13 that search and rescue operations had been launched to locate two U.S. Navy sailors who went missing during operations on Jan. 11.

“For operational security purposes, we will not release additional information until the personnel recovery operation is complete,” CENTCOM stated in a press release.

During an interview with CBS News on Jan. 14, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said the missing sailors were Navy SEALs on an interdiction mission to intercept the flow of weapons to Yemen.

Mr. Kirby said that the search is “still ongoing for those two sailors that are in the water” and they hoped to get updated information soon.

“But we’re obviously watching this very closely,” he told the news outlet.

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A U.S. defense official, speaking to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity, said that the SEALs were attempting to board a dhow when one of them fell into the rough seas. A second SEAL jumped in the water to attempt a rescue. Both have been reported missing since that incident.

The official said the crew on the dhow, which did not have a country flag, were planning to transfer components for medium-range Iranian ballistic missiles to another boat off the coast of Somalia.

The crew, who had no paperwork, have been taken into custody. The weapons were confiscated, and the boat was sunk, a routine procedure that usually involves blowing open holes in the hull.

Mission Not Related to US Strikes Against Houthis

However, Mr. Kirby emphasized that the SEALS’ interdiction mission was not related to the recent U.S. retaliatory strikes against Houthi targets in Yemen.

A missile is launched from a warship in an undisclosed location during the U.S.-led operation against targets in Yemen, in this handout picture released on Jan. 12, 2024. (US Central Command via X/Handout via Reuters)
A missile is launched from a warship in an undisclosed location during the U.S.-led operation against targets in Yemen, in this handout picture released on Jan. 12, 2024. (US Central Command via X/Handout via Reuters)

“This was not related to the strikes in Yemen. This was normal interdiction operations that we’ve been conducting for some time to try to disrupt that flow of weapons supplies to Yemen,” he said.

Mr. Kirby reiterated the U.S. is not seeking a conflict with Yemen. He said the recent strikes were aimed at stopping attacks by Houthis on international maritime vessels in the Red Sea.

“These strikes were meant to disrupt and degrade their ability to conduct these strikes,” he added. “Nobody wants a conflict with the Houthis.”

U.S. and British naval forces struck multiple Houthi targets across Yemen on Jan. 11. At least five of the group’s members were killed by the strikes, according to a Houthi spokesman.

President Joe Biden has said the “targeted strikes” on Houthi targets was a “clear message” that the United States and its partners would not allow “hostile actors to imperil freedom of navigation.”

“These strikes are in direct response to unprecedented Houthi attacks against international maritime vessels in the Red Sea, including the use of anti-ship ballistic missiles for the first time in history,” the president said in a statement on Jan. 11.

President Biden said that more than 2,000 ships have been forced to reroute to avoid the Red Sea following the attacks, causing weeks of delays in product shipping times.

Yemen’s Houthis say their attacks on Red Sea shipping are a response to Israel’s military offensive that has left thousands dead in the Gaza Strip.

Following the U.S.-led strikes, spokesmen for the group voiced defiance, vowing to continue targeting ships headed for Israel through the Red Sea.

Adam Morrow and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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