Two Navy SEALs are missing after they fell into rough, nighttime seas while raiding a small ship off Somalia, two U.S. defense officials told NBC News.
The SEALs were trying to climb into a type of small boat known as a dhow Thursday night when one of them fell in amid the rough seas, the defense officials said, speaking anonymously to give details of the incident.
A second sailor jumped in to rescue the first, as protocol dictates, and both disappeared into the darkness, the officials said.
Now in the fourth day since the sailors went overboard, search-and-rescue efforts by sea and air continue over the waters, which are warm.
The two sailors, attached to a Naval Special Warfare Command unit, were searching sailboats in the Gulf of Aden looking for illegal goods such as weapons or drugs. They are attached to the Fifth Fleet, based in Bahrain.
“For operational security purposes, we will not release additional information until the personnel recovery operation is complete,” said an earlier statement from U.S. Central Command, which oversees the military in the Middle East and parts of Asia. “Out of respect for the families affected, we will not release further information on the missing personnel at this time.”
The sailors were not part of the international mission to protect shipping from attacks by Yemen’s Houthis in the Red Sea, which the Gulf of Aden leads into.
However, in recent years the U.S. and its Western allies have conducted regular missions to intercept weapons on ships suspected of supplying the Iran-backed Houthis, who support Hamas and say they want to destroy the state of Israel.
Meanwhile Sunday, a U.S. fighter jet shot down an anti-ship cruise missile fired toward an American destroyer in the Red Sea from Houthi militant-controlled areas of Yemen, the U.S. military said.
It appeared to be the first Houthi attack since U.S.-led strikes on sites the rebel group controls in Yemen, the latest of which targeted a Houthi radar site Saturday night.
That strike was on a much smaller scale than the coordinated strikes Thursday, when the U.S. and British militaries targeted more than 60 sites, a response to weeks of attacks on international shipping by the Houthis.