Updated Jan 21, 2024 - World

2 missing U.S. Navy SEALs declared dead after search called off

 An MH-53E Sea Dragon, from Helicopter Mine Countermeasures Squadron (HM) 15, prepare to land on expeditionary mobile base platform ship USS Lewis B. Puller.

A U.S. Navy helicopter preparing to land on the USS Lewis B. Puller during an earlier operation. Photo: U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kevin J. Steinberg

Two U.S. Navy SEALs who went missing off the coast of Somalia during a mission that seized Iranian-made weapons bound for Yemen's Houthi rebels were declared dead on Sunday.

Details: "We regret to announce that after a 10-day exhaustive search, our two missing U.S. Navy SEALs have not been located and their status has been changed to deceased," U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) said in a statement Sunday. "We are now conducting recovery operations."

The big picture: They vanished during a Jan. 11 raid in which the U.S. military seized a cache of Iranian-supplied missile parts and other weaponry bound for Houthis — which CENTCOM has said the rebels have used previously to conduct attacks on commercial shipping vessels in the Red Sea that have severely disrupted the global supply chain.

  • To seize the weapons, CENTCOM said the commandos operated from the USS Lewis B. Puller in international waters in the Arabian Sea, supported by helicopters and drones, to conduct the "complex boarding" of the boat near Somalia — a region known for piracy.

Of note: The Houthis have said they're attacking the ships in protest at the Israel-Hamas war.

  • However, Pentagon spokesperson Brigadier General Patrick Ryder said in November after the attempted hijacking of an Israel-linked commercial tanker that initial indications were that Somali individuals were behind what he called "clearly a piracy-related incident" and not Houthis.

What they're saying: "We mourn the loss of our two Naval Special Warfare warriors, and we will forever honor their sacrifice and example," said Gen. Michael Erik Kurilla in CENTCOM's statement, which did not publicly identify the Navy SEALs.

  • "Our prayers are with the SEALs' families, friends, the U.S. Navy, and the entire Special Operations community during this time."

By the numbers: The expansive search of more than 21,000 square miles involved "airborne and naval platforms from the U.S., Japan, and Spain," along with American agencies and groups including the Coast Guard and the University of San Diego – Scripps Institute of Oceanography, per CENTCOM.

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Editor's note: This article has been updated with new details throughout.

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