WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. Navy ships and aircraft combed areas of the Gulf of Aden for two missing U.S. Navy SEALs on Monday as details emerged about their mission to board and take over a vessel carrying components for medium-range Iranian ballistic missiles headed for Somalia, a U.S. defense official said Monday.
The official said crew on 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 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 were on the USS Lewis B. Puller, a Navy expeditionary sea base vessel, and 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. Both are missing.
The team boarding the small boat was facing about a dozen crew members. The crew members, who were taken into custody, had no paperwork, which allowed a search of the vessel. The weapons were confiscated, and the boat was sunk, a routine procedure that usually involves blowing open holes in the hull.
U.S. officials have said that the waters in the Gulf of Aden are warm, and Navy SEALs are trained for such emergencies. On Monday, Navy ships, helicopters and drones were involved in the ongoing search.
The U.S. Navy has conducted regular 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 over the past two days.