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Two missing US Navy SEALs presumed dead after anti-Iran mission

Iranian missiles exhibited in a park on Jan. 20, 2024, in Tehran, Iran. Iran has been a key player in several overlapping regional conflicts, with its recent airstrikes in Iraq, Syria and Pakistan, and its support of Hamas in Gaza, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and the Houthi movement in Yemen.    (Majid Saeedi/Getty Images North America/TNS)
By Nurin Sofia Bloomberg News

The U.S. military said two Navy Seals who went missing during a mission on Jan. 11 to seize Iranian weapons bound for Yemen’s Houthis are now presumed dead.

“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,” Central Command said in a statement.

It didn’t explain exactly how they died. Several U.S media reports have said it appears to have been due to accidental drowning in rough seas. The two commandos were climbing a ladder to board a vessel when one was knocked into the sea and the second jumped in to try to help the other.

The two SEALs were part of a team that boarded a dhow near the coast of Somalia. The U.S forces sunk the boat after they seized components for ballistic and cruise missiles. U.S fatalities on such missions are rare.

The navy said it was the first such interception of Iranian-supplied advanced weapons to the Houthis since they began to attack ships in the Red Sea in mid-November.

The Houthis, who control much of western Yemen and are backed by Iran, say they are supporting Hamas in its war against Israel in Gaza.

Their attacks have roiled shipping markets and forced many vessels to avoid the southern Red Sea, which links to the Mediterranean via the Suez Canal. Several Western firms are now sending their ships heading between Europe and Asia around the southern tip of Africa instead, adding several days onto journeys.

Last month, the U.S and some of its allies created a maritime task force — dubbed Operation Prosperity Guardian — to protect ships transiting the Red Sea. It’s largely restricted itself to defending vessels under attack.

The U.S and UK have also started intermittent air strikes on Houthi positions to try to get the group to stop its shipping assaults.