Two US Marines missing in the Gulf of Aden off the coast of Somalia were on a mission to board a dhow that led to the seizure of Iranian-made ballistic missile and cruise missile components destined for Houthi militants in Yemen, according to US Central Command.
Last Thursday’s perilous night mission to board the sailboat in rough waters continued even after one SEAL fell into the water and a second SEAL, according to protocol, jumped into the water to rescue his teammate.
Search and rescue operations continue for the two missing soldiers in the Gulf of Aden, with the participation of US Navy aircraft and ships in the search.
For many years, the US Navy has intercepted dhows, the name given to small fishing or shipping vessels used in the region, that are believed to be carrying Iranian-made weapons to the Houthis.
During these missions, boarding teams usually tow the dhow aside for a “flag check” mission if the dhow does not carry a flag or has replaced its flag to conceal the smuggling mission.
The latest seizure was the first since the Houthis began carrying out more than 30 drone and missile attacks on commercial ships in the Red Sea, most of which were repelled by US, French and British warships.
“Navy forces overnight seized a dhow illegally transporting advanced lethal aid from Iran to resupply Houthi forces in Yemen as part of the Houthis’ ongoing campaign of attacks against international commercial shipping,” the Navy said on Thursday, January 11. Central command statement.
The SEALs were operating from the Expeditionary Sea Base USS Lewis B Puller (ESB 3), a converted cargo ship topped with helicopter landing pads and capable of launching the small watercraft used by the SEALs as they approached the schooner.
With helicopters and drones flying overhead, they “carried out a complex boarding operation on a dhow near the coast of Somalia in the international waters of the Arabian Sea and seized components of Iranian-made ballistic missiles and cruise missiles.”
It included propulsion, guidance, and warhead components for Houthi medium-range ballistic missiles and anti-ship cruise missiles, in addition to components associated with air defense.
US Central Command said: “Preliminary analysis indicates that the Houthis used these same weapons to threaten and attack innocent sailors aboard international commercial ships crossing the Red Sea.”
This was the first time since November 2019 that the US Navy seized Iranian-made ballistic missiles and cruise missile components heading to the Houthis.
Night boarding operations by boat, conducted in complete darkness, are some of the most difficult tasks a SEAL can perform and require constant training, according to a retired SEAL commander
“You run the risk of your boat capsizing in close proximity to larger ships, and you have to create a solid ladder point, and you have to climb a ladder at night over the open ocean between two ships, and they’re crashing into each other. Then join us,” said Eric Ulrich, an ABC News contributor. “.
He added: “Then your problem starts with what you are going to do with anyone on this boat.”
Ulrich said that the danger facing special forces carrying out these missions in the Gulf of Aden and the Somali Basin increases during this time of the year when ocean waves are particularly high.
“In the winter, the sea state is usually eight to 12 feet,” Ulrich said. “The horizon is flat, so 8-12 feet is eight feet above the flat horizon, and then eight feet, it’s like a 16-foot wave.”
After seizing the sailboat, the US Navy deemed it unsafe and sank it, and the fate of the fourteen crew members has not yet been determined.
“It is clear that Iran continues to ship advanced lethal aid to the Houthis. This is another example of how Iran is actively sowing instability across the region in direct violation of UN Security Resolution 2216 and international law, said US Central Command Commander General Michael Eric Kurella.
He added: “We will continue to work with regional and international partners to detect and intercept these efforts, and ultimately restore freedom of navigation.”
This article originally appeared on abcnews.go.com