U.S. Central Command said Sunday it was halting search and rescue efforts for two Navy SEALs who went missing during a Iranian weapons seizure mission this month, and the two are now considered deceased.
The SEALs were on a mission to board an “illicit dhow carrying Iranian advanced conventional weapons” on Jan. 11 when they went missing off Somalia, according to CENTCOM.
Out of respect for the families of the deceased SEALs, the command said it would not provide any additional information and did not disclose the names of the two frogmen.
Those aboard the dhow, which did not have a country flag, were planning to transfer the missile parts, including warheads and engines, to another boat off the coast of Somalia, the Associated Press reported earlier this month, citing a U.S. defense official.
The Navy recognized the boat as one with a history of transporting illegal weapons from Iran to Somalia, said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss details not made public.
The SEALs traveled in small special operations combat craft driven by naval special warfare crew to get to the boat. As they were boarding it in rough seas, around 8 p.m. local time, one SEAL got knocked off by high waves and a teammate went in after him.
“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,” CENTCOM said in a statement on Jan. 16. “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.”
Airborne and naval platforms from the U.S., Japan, and Spain participated in search and rescue operations, according to CENTCOM.
“We mourn the loss of our two Naval Special Warfare warriors, and we will forever honor their sacrifice and example,” CENTCOM Commander Gen. Michael Erik Kurilla said in a statement Sunday. “Our prayers are with the SEALs’ families, friends, the U.S. Navy, and the entire Special Operations community during this time.”
The Navy has regularly conducted interdiction missions in the region, also intercepting weapons on ships that were bound for Iranian-backed Houthis in Yemen.
Officials have said that the SEAL mission was not related to Operation Prosperity Guardian, the ongoing U.S. and international mission to provide protection to commercial vessels in the Red Sea, or the retaliatory strikes that the United States and the United Kingdom have conducted in Yemen in recent weeks.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.