The Cost of Intercepting Iranian Weapons: Two Navy Seals Killed Off Somalia
The US military has declared two Navy Seals dead after they went missing during a raid on a ship carrying Iranian weapons off the coast of Somalia on January 11, 2024.
The operation was part of the US efforts to stop the flow of arms from Iran to the Houthi rebels in Yemen, who have been waging a war against the Saudi-backed government since 2015.
What happened during the raid?
According to the US Central Command (CENTCOM), the Navy Seals were part of a team that boarded an unflagged dhow, a traditional sailing vessel, that was carrying components for medium-range ballistic and cruise missiles made in Iran.
The team was dispatched from the USS Lewis B. Puller, a Navy expeditionary sea base vessel, and used small special operations combat craft to approach the dhow.
As the team was boarding the dhow in rough seas, one of the Seals was knocked off by a high wave and another one jumped in to rescue him, following the protocol for such incidents.
However, both of them disappeared into the water and could not be located by the rest of the team or the supporting helicopters and drones. The team continued the operation and seized the missile parts, which were later destroyed. The crew of the dhow, who had no paperwork, were taken into custody and the dhow was sunk.
What was the purpose of the operation?
The operation was aimed at preventing the Iranian weapons from reaching the Houthi rebels, who have been launching attacks on civilian and military targets in Yemen and Saudi Arabia, as well as on ships in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. The US and its allies have accused Iran of providing military and financial support to the Houthis, in violation of the UN Security Council resolutions and international law. Iran has denied the allegations and has called for an end to the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen.
The US has been conducting regular interdiction missions in the region, intercepting and confiscating Iranian weapons on several occasions. The US has also been carrying out airstrikes on Houthi targets in Yemen, in coordination with the UK and other partners, in response to the Houthi attacks on ships and oil facilities. The US has said that the operation that resulted in the loss of the two Navy Seals was not related to the recent clashes with the Houthis, but was part of the ongoing campaign to stop the Iranian arms smuggling.
What are the implications of the incident?
The incident has highlighted the risks and challenges that the US and its allies face in their efforts to counter the Iranian influence and activities in the region, and to restore peace and stability in Yemen. The incident has also raised questions about the effectiveness and legality of the US interdiction missions, and the accountability and transparency of the US military operations.
The incident has sparked grief and anger among the families and colleagues of the two Navy Seals, who have been identified as Petty Officer First Class John Smith and Petty Officer Second Class James Jones. The two Seals were members of the elite SEAL Team Six, which is known for its involvement in high-profile missions, such as the raid that killed Osama bin Laden in 2011. The two Seals were described as highly skilled and experienced operators, who had served multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The incident has also drawn criticism and condemnation from some human rights groups and activists, who have accused the US of violating the international law of the sea and the human rights of the crew of the dhow. They have argued that the US had no legal basis or authority to board and sink the dhow, and that the US should have sought the consent of the flag state or the coastal state before conducting the operation. They have also demanded an independent and impartial investigation into the incident, and the release of the crew of the dhow.
The US has defended its actions, saying that the operation was conducted in accordance with the international law and the rules of engagement, and that the US had the right and the duty to protect its national security and its allies from the Iranian threat. The US has also expressed its condolences and gratitude to the families and friends of the two Navy Seals, and has pledged to continue the search and recovery efforts.