US Strikes Houthis Again, 2 Navy SEALs Still Missing After Helping Intercept Iranian Weapons

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The U.S. launched a new strike against the Yemen-based Houthis on Tuesday, targeting the group’s anti-ship missiles in the third assault on the Iranian-backed terrorists in recent days, a U.S. official said.

The strike came as the Houthis claimed responsibility for a missile attack against the Malta-flagged bulk carrier Zografia in the Red Sea. No one was injured. The vessel had been heading north to the Suez Canal when it was attacked, the Greek Shipping and Island Policy Ministry said.

The Houthis’ military spokesman, Brig. Gen. Yahya Saree claimed in a pre-recorded statement the vessel was fired upon after the ship’s crew refused to answer warning calls and the boat was headed for a port in Israel. According to the shipping tracking website Vessel Finder, Zografia was bound for Suez, Egypt.

The U.S. official said no other details were available yet on the American strike against the missiles, including the precise location. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because the operation had not been made public.

Two Navy SEALs Still Missing 

Two Navy SEALs, who are still missing in the Gulf of Aden near Somalia, were involved in a mission to seize a small dhow or boat later found to be carrying Iranian-made missile parts and other weaponry to be delivered to Yemen’s Houthi rebels. 

The raid happened on Thursday, Jan. 11. The SEAL team launched from the USS Lewis B. Puller backed by drones and helicopters, according to the U.S. military’s Central Command which said it took place in the Arabian Sea.

The team traveled in small special operations combat craft driven by a naval special warfare crew to get to the boat. As they were boarding it in rough seas, around 8:00 p.m. local time, one SEAL got knocked off by high waves and a teammate went in after him. Both remain missing.

Search and rescue operations for the two missing SEALs continue in the Gulf of Aden with U.S. Navy ships and aircraft still combing the area.

The SEAL team boarding the boat encountered about a dozen crew members who were taken into custody. 

During the search of the vessel, the SEALs found cruise and ballistic missile components, including propulsion and guidance devices, as well as warheads, Central Command said. It added that air defense parts also were found.

“Initial analysis indicates these same weapons have been employed by the Houthis to threaten and attack innocent mariners on international merchant ships transiting in the Red Sea,” Central Command said in a statement.

Images released by the U.S. military showed components resembling rocket motors and others previously seized. It also included what appeared to be an anti-ship cruise missile with a small turbojet engine, a type used by the Houthis and radical Islamic regime in Iran.

Also included in the photos was a warhead similarly seen in Iranian anti-ship missiles, which are based off an earlier Chinese design, said Fabian Hinz, a missile expert and research fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

“Looking at the size and the robustness of the thing, it looks a lot like an anti-ship warhead,” Hinz said. 

Hinz also noted the warhead in the photo has a sticker reading “GHAD” on it. Iran has an anti-ship missile called the Ghadir.

The seizure marked the first time since November 2019 that the U.S. Navy has seized Iranian-made ballistic missile and cruise missile components headed for the Houthis, according to ABC News

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slider img 2Meanwhile, U.S. officials have said the waters in the Gulf of Aden are warm, and Navy SEALs are trained for such emergencies. 

Eric Oehlerich, a retired SEAL commander and an ABC News contributor, told the outlet the risk to SEALs undertaking missions in the Gulf of Aden and the Somali Basin increases during this time of year when ocean waves are especially high.

“In the wintertime, the sea state is typically eight to 12 feet,” Oehlerich said. “The horizon is flat, so 8-12 feet is eight feet above the flat horizon, and then eight feet, it’s like a 16-foot wave.”

He also explained the other risks the SEAL team has to take to board a vessel at night.  

“You have the risk of your boat capsizing in close proximity to larger vessels. You have to establish a solid ladder point. You have to climb a ladder at night over the open ocean between two ships. They’re smashing into each other, and then get on board,” Oehlerich noted. 

“And then your problem starts with what you’re going to do with whoever is on board that boat,” he said.

The Houthis have not acknowledged the seizure. But Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has praised the Houthis’ continued attacks. He said in a speech Tuesday, “Their work is an example of jihad for the sake of Allah. We hope that these efforts will continue until victory.”

A United Nations resolution bans arms transfers to Yemen’s Iranian-backed Houthi rebels. Tehran has long denied arming the rebels, despite physical evidence, numerous seizures, and experts tying the weapons back to Iran. 

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