US Navy announces first seizure of Iranian weapons bound for Yemen as two SEALs remain lost from mission

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The U.S. Navy on Tuesday announced what’s considered the first seizure of Iranian weapons bound for Yemen since Houthi rebels began their campaign of attacks against international merchant shipping in the Red Sea two months ago – yet the two Navy SEALs lost at sea during the mission carried out last week still remain missing amid search and rescue efforts. 

On Jan. 11, 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,” U.S. Central Command said in a statement Tuesday. 

“U.S. Navy SEALs operating from USS Lewis B Puller (ESB 3), supported by helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), executed a complex boarding of the dhow near the coast of Somalia in international waters of the Arabian Sea, seizing Iranian-made ballistic missile and cruise missiles components,” the statement said. “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.” 

NAVY SEALS MISSING OFF COAST OF SOMALIA WERE CHASING IRAN-MADE WEAPONS BOUND FOR YEMEN, OFFICIAL SAYS

On Jan. 10, 2024, a dhow was identified, and an assessment was made that the dhow was in the process of smuggling. USS Lewis B. Puller (ESB 3) was vectored to conduct flag verification. (U.S. Central Command )

“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 added. “This is the first seizure of lethal, Iranian-supplied advanced conventional weapons (ACW) to the Houthis since the beginning of Houthi attacks against merchant ships in November 2023. The interdiction also constitutes the first seizure of advanced Iranian-manufactured ballistic missile and cruise missile components by the U.S. Navy since November 2019. The direct or indirect supply, sale, or transfer of weapons to the Houthis in Yemen violates U.N. Security Resolution 2216 and international law.”

Vessel searched by U.S. Navy

On Jan. 11, USS Lewis B. Puller (ESB 3) intercepts the dhow and conducts a nighttime boarding. U.S. Sailors maintained custody of the dhow until daybreak and completed an extensive search of the vessel with assistance of the U.S. Coast Guard. (U.S. Central Command )

CENTCOM clarified that the two U.S. Navy SEALs previously reported as lost at sea were directly involved in this operation. 

“We are conducting an exhaustive search for our missing teammates,” General Michael Erik Kurilla, USCENTCOM Commander, said in a statement. 

U.S. Navy image of intercepted Houthi shipment

On Jan. 12, an initial search of the dhow revealed suspicious material throughout the holds. (U.S. Central Command )

The dhow was deemed unsafe and sunk by U.S. Navy forces. Disposition of the 14 dhow crewmembers is being determined in accordance with international law, the Navy said. 

“It is clear that Iran continues shipment of advanced lethal aid to the Houthis. This is yet another example of how Iran actively sows instability throughout the region in direct violation of U.N. Security Resolution 2216 and international law,” Kurilla added. “We will continue to work with regional and international partners to expose and interdict these efforts, and ultimately to reestablish freedom of navigation.”

Iranian weapon bound for Houthis

The packages were opened onboard the dhow and Advanced Conventional Weapons (ACW) were identified. The items were immediately verified as safe by ordnance professionals. (U.S. Central Command )

2 NAVY SEALS GO MISSING OFF COAST OF SOMALIA DURING NIGHTTIME BOARDING MISSION

The missing sailors so far have not been publicly identified as efforts to find them alive continue. 

Reports, citing U.S. officials, say the two special forces operators were climbing on a ladder aboard a vessel while on a mission in the Gulf of Aden when high waves knocked one into the sea. The second SEAL jumped in after the first as part of Navy SEAL protocol to help a partner in distress and both vanished. The Gulf of Aden has warm waters, so powerful swells and exhaustion are more of a concern than hypothermia. 

Tuesday’s announcement comes a day after Houthi rebels fired a missile that struck a U.S.-owned ship Monday just off the coast of Yemen in the Gulf of Aden, less than a day after they launched an anti-ship cruise missile toward an American destroyer in the Red Sea.

Houthi shipments bound for Yemen

The dhow was brought alongside USS Lewis B. Puller and Advanced Conventional Weapons (ACW) materials were offloaded. (U.S. Central Command )

The attack on the Gibraltar Eagle, later claimed by the Houthis, further escalated tensions gripping the Red Sea after American-led strikes on the rebels. The Houthis’ attacks have roiled global shipping, amid Israel’s war with Hamas in the Gaza Strip, targeting a crucial corridor linking Asian and Mideast energy and cargo shipments to the Suez Canal onward to Europe.

The U.S., with help from the United Kingdom, began strikes in Yemen on Friday, hitting 28 locations and striking more than 60 targets with cruise missiles and bombs launched by fighter jets, warships and a submarine. Sites hit included weapon depots, radars and command centers, including in remote mountain areas, the U.S. has said.

Iranian weapons seized by U.S. Navy

After transfer, all material was unpacked and confirmed to be Advanced Conventional Weapons (ACW). (U.S. Central Command )

The Houthis have yet to acknowledge how severe the damage was from the strikes, which they said killed five of their troops and wounded six others.

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U.S. forces followed up with a strike Saturday on a Houthi radar site. Since November, the rebels have repeatedly targeted ships in the Red Sea, saying they were avenging Israel’s campaign in Gaza against Hamas. But they have frequently targeted vessels with tenuous or no clear links to Israel, imperiling shipping in a key route for global trade.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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