U.S. Navy special operators in the Gulf of Aden seized Iranian weapons components headed toward the Houthi rebels in Yemen for the first time, the military’s mideast command said in a statement Tuesday.
Search and rescue efforts continue for two U.S. Navy SEALs who went missing in the ocean during the successful Jan. 11 interdiction off the coast of Somalia, U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) said in the statement. The rest of the SEALs operating from the USS Lewis B. Puller carried on the “complex boarding” mission, confiscating components for medium-range ballistic missiles, anti-ship cruise missiles and air defense systems that the Houthis might have used to support their attacks on international shipping in the Red Sea.
“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.
It was the first time the Navy has taken possession of Iranian-supplied advanced weaponry headed to the Houthi rebels since their assault on international shipping and U.S. Navy assets in the Red Sea began on Nov. 19, CENTCOM said. The last time the Navy seized ballistic missile and cruise missile parts of Iranian origin was in 2019.
“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.
U.S. officials said on Monday the interdiction and boarding was not part of Operation Prosperity Guardian, the coalition of more than 20 nations aimed at safeguarding shipping in the Red Sea region, The Associated Press reported. It was also separate from the follow-on retaliatory strikes on a radar facility operated by the Houthis.
The Navy was conducting a night-time flag verification on the unknown vessel, which previous reports said was recognized as participating in past illegal smuggling operations. Helicopters and drones supported the SEALs, CENTCOM said. The operation took place in international waters of the Arabian Sea. The Navy took 14 members into custody and the boat was then sunk.
The two missing Navy sailors has attempted to board the targeted dhow from a small special operations combat craft crewed by a special warfare team at around 8 p.m., when a swell caught one of the SEALs and pulled him into the water, according to the AP. The second went in after him.
Micaela Burrow on January 16, 2024