The two U.S. Navy SEALs missing at sea off the coast of Somalia were on a mission chasing shipments of Iranian-made weapons bound for Yemen, a U.S. official confirmed to .
The SEALs were attempting to board a ship they suspected was falsely flagged that could have been smuggling weapons, the U.S. official said, though it’s unclear if any weapons were located. The revelation comes amid reports that the SEALs went missing after conducting a nighttime interdiction mission Thursday off the coast of Somalia.
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 Associated Press said.
Both are still missing and a search and rescue mission continues in the Gulf of Aden where, according to officials who spoke to The Washington Post, powerful swells and exhaustion are more of a concern than hypothermia as commanders remain hopeful that the two SEALs will be found alive.
2 NAVY SEALS GO MISSING OFF COAST OF SOMALIA DURING NIGHTTIME BOARDING MISSION
White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby addressed the reports during an appearance on CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday.
“As far as we know, that search is still ongoing for those – for those two sailors that are in the water,” Kirby said. “This was not related to the strikes in Yemen. This was normal interdiction operations that we’ve been conducting for some time to try to disrupt that flow of weapons supplies to Yemen. So it’s not related to the strikes that we took against the Houthis.”
“Nobody wants a conflict with the Houthis. We’re not looking for a conflict with Yemen here. We’re trying to get these attacks to stop,” Kirby added.
The U.S. Navy has conducted regular interdiction missions, where they have intercepted weapons on ships that were bound for Houthi-controlled Yemen.
2 US NAVY SAILORS MISSING OFF COAST OF SOMALIA: CENTRAL COMMAND
One official told the AP on Saturday that the 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 reportedly against numerous radar stations, missile launch sites and storage facilities used to stage the Red Sea attacks over the prior two days.
The SEALs’ mission was also not related to the seizure of the oil tanker St. Nikolas by Iran, another U.S. official told The AP.
Yet, senior U.S. officials who spoke to the Post did blame Iran for having “aiding and abetted” the crisis by providing technological and intelligence support for the Houthis.
Meanwhile, The Associated Press reported on Monday that a missile fired from Yemen struck a U.S.-owned ship in the Gulf of Aden – less than a day after Yemen’s Houthi rebels fired an anti-ship cruise missile toward an American destroyer in the Red Sea.
In a statement published on Saturday, U.S. Central Command said search and rescue operations were ongoing to locate the two sailors but “for operational security purposes” no additional information would be released “until the personnel recovery operation is complete.”
CLICK HERE TO GET THE APP
“Out of respect for the families affected, we will not release further information on the missing personnel at this time,” CENTCOM said, without identifying the SEALs. “The sailors were forward-deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet (C5F) area of operations supporting a wide variety of missions.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.