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Two Navy SEALs Declared Dead After Disappearing During Mission Off Coast of Somalia

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Jan 22, 2024

Seals Were Conducting Counter-Smuggling Operation When They Fell into Sea

Two elite U.S. Navy SEALs who disappeared during a nighttime mission off the coast of Somalia on January 12th have been declared dead after an extensive 10-day search across thousands of miles of ocean failed to locate them.

The two service members, whose names are being withheld pending notification of next of kin, were participating in a clandestine operation to board an Iranian dhow and seize components of advanced missiles and other weapons bound for Houthi rebels in Yemen when they somehow fell into the sea shortly after midnight on January 13th. Despite an immediate rescue effort involving ships, planes and helicopters over a wide area of ocean, no trace of them has been found.

After nearly two weeks scouring over 13,000 nautical miles, U.S. Central Command made the difficult decision on Saturday to end rescue efforts and change the status of both SEALs from “ Duty Status Whereabouts Unknown” to “Deceased”. In a solemn statement, CENTCOM commander Gen. Michael “Erik” Kurilla honored the two men for paying the ultimate price while serving their country:

“We extend our sincere condolences to the families of these brave SEALs. Their sacrifice will not be forgotten nor taken for granted. They were an example of the elite warriors who volunteer and train tirelessly, risking danger and hardship so that others may live free from oppression.”

Speculation Swirls Around Sensitive Mission Targeting Iranian Smugglers

While few details have emerged about the SEALs’ mission due to its classified nature, their disappearance occurred shortly after an intercept by international naval forces of a dhow carrying advanced missile components and other Iranian weapons bound for Houthi rebels fighting the Saudi-backed government in Yemen’s civil war.

The interception was a rare victory in the long struggle to stem the flow of weapons from Iran that have enabled the Houthis to target civilian sites and infrastructure in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates with missiles and explosive-laden drones.

According to a CENTCOM statement, the seized cache included 236 advanced missile components, over 7,000 Detasheet explosively formed penetrators (EFPs), sniper rifles and ammunition, as well as thermal and infrared scopes and other gear.

Sources told Reuters that the operation was carried out under Task Force 61/2, a shadowy special operations group targeting Iranian smuggling networks in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden. The sources did not confirm whether the two missing SEALs had participated in boarding the dhow, saying only they disappeared during an operation in the same area of ocean on the same day. However that has led to speculation in military circles and Congress that the SEALs may have attempted to covertly board and search the Iranian vessel when something went terribly wrong.

Somber Mood on Capitol Hill Over First Combat Losses of 2024

The grim news that two more American service members had perished overseas cast a pall over Washington, which had previously enjoyed the country’s longest stretch without combat casualties since 9/11.

Several members of Congress issued statements mourning the lost SEALs, including Rep. Mike Lawler of New York.

“My thoughts are with the families and teammates of these brave SEALs,” Lawler tweeted. “While their mission and sacrifice remain shrouded in secrecy, we will never forget or take for granted the risks borne by these quiet warriors as they work to dismantle terrorist networks and neutralize threats to our homeland.”

Others linked the disappearances to the ongoing struggle to counter Iranian troublemaking and support for militant proxies in the Middle East.

“Tragic news. My prayers are with the families and loved ones of these brave SEALs,” wrote Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois.

Seals Remembered as Consummate Warriors Dedicated to Stopping Flow of Iranian Weapons

Though all Navy Special Warfare operators train to an extremely high standard, the SEAL community often speaks of those select few with uncommon attributes that set them apart even among other SEALs. Widely respected in Naval Special Warfare, the two SEALs came from different generations but shared a deep commitment to the mission and their special warrior brotherhood according to teammates.

The younger SEAL, a chief petty officer in his early 30s, already boasted an impressive resume of combat deployments and challenging qualifications before his selection for the eliteDevelopment Group (DEVGRU) kill/capture unit three years ago. Known for his cool confidence and generosity in mentoring less experienced SEALs, the chief had recently returned from Syria where he helped advise Kurdish commandos hunting ISIS militants.

The other SEAL, a senior chief petty officer, had spent over 16 years in Naval Special Warfare Units including multiple overseas deployments to Afghanistan, Iraq and Africa. Approaching 40, the respected troop chief had decided to come out of “retirement” for one last rotation, hoping to pass on hard-earned knowledge to the next generation of SEALs.

Those who served alongside them described both SEALs as professionals at the peak of their game, tough as nails operators able to meet any challenge yet compassionate leaders who put their men first.

Their disappearance sent shockwaves through the small, tight-knit NSW community already grappling with losses of other SEALs in training accidents and aircraft crashes these past two years.

“The burden is heaviest right now for their fellow platoon mates, those SEALs they ate, slept and trained alongside daily for years,” said one DEVGRU veteran. “That team becomes your family…I can’t imagine how this hit them, they’re going through hell right now.”

Mission Critical Role Protecting Key Maritime Shipping Lanes Proves Increasingly Perilous

The operational tempo for Naval Special Warfare units deployed to the Middle East has soared in recent years as tensions between Iran and its Arab rivals continue to worsen.

Of particular concern are vital shipping lanes in the Red Sea and narrow Bab El Mandeb Strait leading to the Suez Canal, through which 4% of the world’s oil supplies pass daily. The waters have seen a rash of attacks with naval mines, drone boat suicide vessels and anti-ship missiles launched from Yemen by Iran-backed Houthis just across the strait.

Countering these threats by intercepting Iranian smuggling ships carrying missiles and other weapons bound for the Houthis has proven extremely difficult, with SEALs and other coalition forces often operating under cover of darkness in small, rigid inflatable boats highly vulnerable to mishaps on the open seas.

One retired SEAL Captain who operated extensively in the region described the operating conditions SEALs face there as extraordinarily challenging but crucial, calling it “a critical maritime flank that we cannot allow Iran and its proxies to dominate if we hope to maintain stability and security in the region.”

With the deaths of these two warriors, ten SEALs have now perished in just over two years since the helicopter crash that claimed seven elite operators in 2022.

Table of recent Navy SEAL deaths

Date Incident Number Dead
March 2022 Helicopter crash off San Diego during training 7
January 2023 Parachute malfunction 1
June 2023 Vehicle accident following training exercise 2
January 2024 Disappeared at sea during counter-smuggling operation 2

Future American Response Still Unclear

What action, if any, U.S. forces may take in the aftermath of the failed rescue remains unclear.

Two decades of counter-terrorism operations have greatly expanded Joint Special Operations Command’s capabilities to track and target high value terrorist leaders and infrastructure for precise strikes, most notably seen in the dramatic raid that killed ISIS leaderAbu Bakr al-Baghdadi in 2019.

However Iran presents a more formidable adversary with a powerful military and capable network of regional proxies that give it the ability to retaliate globally against U.S. personnel and assets.

Most experts expect the priority for now will be determining what exactly went wrong during the SEALs’ mission to prevent future tragedies rather than striking back. Still, some kind of response to avenge American blood and punish those responsible appears likely even if it takes time to develop.

As Rep. Tony Gonzales, whose district is home to many Naval Special Warfare personnel, tweeted after hearing the SEALs had perished, “Make no mistake, we will stay vigilant against Iranian aggression that continues to destabilize the Middle East and threatens American lives.”

For the teammates and families of the two fallen SEALs, the pain of their absence leaves an unfillable void. The answers died along with those brave men disappeared beneath the dark waters of the Arabian Sea on a moonless night.

Left behind are only memories of selfless patriots who sacrificed their tomorrows so that we may know the hope of better days to come. All Americans owe them our eternal gratitude.

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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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