Search ends for Navy SEALs lost at sea in mission.jpgw1440

Search ends for Navy SEALs lost at sea in mission to seize Iranian weapons – The Washington Post

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The U.S. military has ended its search for two Navy SEALs who were lost at sea during a mission to intercept Iranian weapons for militants in Yemen, officials said Sunday, underscoring the threat of increased violence in the Middle East during Israel's War for the United States of the Gaza Strip.

U.S. Central Command said the two elite soldiers were not found during a 10-day search and rescue operation.

“Her status has been changed to deceased,” the command said in a statement. “We are now carrying out salvage operations.”

The SEALs disappeared during a dangerous night operation Jan. 11 in the Arabian Sea near the coast of Somalia, an area known for piracy and arms smuggling. Troops were dispatched from a floating base, the USS Lewis B. Puller, to inspect a ship suspected of carrying illegal weapons. As they tried to get in, one of the SEALs slipped off a ladder and the second, who had witnessed his comrade fall into the water, jumped in to help, officials said. Both were swept away by the strong waves.

As additional personnel boarded the suspicious vessel, a search and rescue mission was launched. They discovered ballistic and cruise missile warheads, propulsion and guidance systems and air defense components, military officials said, describing the equipment as Iranian supplies for Houthi fighters in Yemen.

The Houthis, who control large swaths of the country ravaged by years of civil war, have carried out more than 30 attacks on commercial vessels since November, significantly disrupting commercial shipping in the Red Sea. The group has portrayed its campaign as retaliation for Israel's war in Gaza.

In response, the United States and its partners sent warships to the region, leading to numerous clashes and increased efforts to intercept arms shipments from Iran. But President Biden and his national security team have tried to tread cautiously, fearing that an overreaction or miscalculation could further embolden the Houthis and other Iranian proxy groups, who have stepped up their attacks on U.S. troops and interests across the Middle East .

As the tragedy unfolded in the Arabian Sea, US forces launched airstrikes in Yemen that have become a regular drumbeat – seven shots so far, joined initially by Britain – to degrade the Houthis' extensive arsenal of Iranian-made weapons . U.S. military officials have drawn a direct link between the seizure of the weapons at sea and the attacks from Yemen.

After the missile components were discovered, the 14-member crew of the intercepted boat were taken into custody and their vessel – described as a dhow, a type of merchant vessel sometimes used by smugglers – was sunk. The American boarding team deemed it “unsafe,” officials said.

It remains unclear how the two SEALs were lost so quickly. The mission was carried out using surveillance drones and helicopters already in the air, and sailors wore flotation devices, according to a defense official familiar with the operation. The dhow's crew, who were still being questioned on Friday, showed no hostility, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity about the incident.

It is unclear whether the sailors were carrying other equipment that would be helpful in a rescue operation, such as infrared lights or strobes that U.S. troops often carry during operations so they can be easily identified by friendly forces.

The interception of suspicious or enemy ships, known as a Visit, Board, Search and Seizure or VBSS, Mission is one of the most difficult and dangerous missions for highly qualified troops. This usually involves approaching the suspicious vessel in smaller boats and using ladders and climbing tools to get on board, which can be difficult in heavy seas.

Missy Ryan contributed to this report.