A U.S. Navy destroyer off the coast of Yemen came under attack Sunday night in the Red Sea, with two missiles fired at it in the same region where an Emirati-leased vessel was badly damaged by rocket fire last week.
The USS Mason was not hit in the attack, said Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman. The incident occurred about 7 p.m. as the ship, deployed from Norfolk, Va., was in international waters. Both missiles splashed down in the water before reaching the Mason, he said.
“We assess the missiles were launched from Houthi-controlled territory in Yemen,” he said, referring to rebels in that country. “The United States remains committed to ensuring freedom of navigation everywhere in the world, and we will continue to take all necessary steps to ensure the safety of our ships and our service members.”
Davis declined to say what kind of missile was launched or how far it was fired, citing the security of U.S. troops. The attack came one day after Saudi jets launched airstrikes on a funeral hall in Yemen that killed at least 100 people, and the Houthis responded by launching a missile at the The King Fahd Air Base in Saudi Arabia.
The Saba news agency in Yemen, which has been run by Houthis since they seized the capital city of Sanaa in September 2014, reported that a Houthi commander denied Monday that the group targeted any vessels in the Red Sea. The official said any such claims were baseless and aimed at covering up Saudi airstrikes Saturday that hit a funeral hall in Sanaa, killing at least 100 people.
Last week, the Saba news agency reported that the Emirati ship was destroyed off the coast of the port city Mocha. The report said the catamaran-style ship was part of “U.S.-backed aggression” led by the Saudis against the Yemeni people. Images published online afterward show that the ship suffered significant damage.
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In video footage posted online that reported to show the strike, the Emirati ship erupted in a fireball, with apparent spotters of some kind filming the attack from the sea.
A Pentagon official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the incident, said the Mason was in the southern end of the Red Sea, north of the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, when the missiles were launched Sunday. Because the destroyer was in international waters, it was at least 12 nautical miles off shore, the official said.
The Mason launched countermeasures after the first missile was launched, the official said. It’s unclear whether they hit the missile, or whether it would have missed the ship anyway. The attack remains under investigation.
“We take this very seriously,” the official said. “We will protect our people.”
A senior Obama administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity in order to discuss the attack, said the United States condemns the “unjustified and unprovoked action” against the USS Mason, commends the officers and crew aboard the ship and welcomes the news that no one was injured.
“Our first priority is the safety and security of Americans overseas, and we will take all appropriate actions to protect our men and women in uniform in the region,” the senior official said, adding that both the airstrikes on the funeral and the missile attacks Sunday “underscore the urgent need to deescalate this conflict and pursue a political solution.”
The administration called for all parties involved in the ongoing conflict to commit to a cessation of hostilities based on terms laid out in April.
“We remind all parties that U.S. commanders retain the right of self-defense and possess the capabilities to exercise that right at all times,” the official said.
The Houthis, backed by Iran, have been locked in conflict with the Saudis since they began launching airstrikes in Yemen in March 2015. The United States has played a quiet role in the conflict, providing the Saudis with some weapons and aerial refueling for their planes.
The U.S. military had Special Operations troops based in Yemen for years as part of its hunt for al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, but withdrew them after Sanaa fell to the Houthis. A small team of American special operators returned to Yemen in April to the port city of Mukalla, which Emirati and Yemeni forces had recently recaptured from AQAP.
The United States has continued to launch airstrikes against AQAP, most recently acknowledging one late last month.