WASHINGTON: American forces carried out strikes in Yemen against 10 attack drones and a ground control station belonging to the Iran-backed Al Houthi militants, the US military has said.
A US warship also shot down an anti-ship missile fired by the Houthis and later downed three Iranian drones, Central Command (CENTCOM) said.
While the United States has recently launched strikes on the Houthis and other Tehran-supported groups in the region, both it and Iran have sought to avoid a direct confrontation, and the downing of three Iranian drones could heighten tensions.
Early on Thursday local time, US forces targeted a “Houthi UAV ground control station and 10 Houthi one-way UAVs” that “presented an imminent threat to merchant vessels and the US Navy ships in the region,” CENTCOM said in a statement, using an abbreviation for unmanned aerial vehicle.
CENTCOM earlier announced that the USS Carney had shot down an anti-ship ballistic missile fired by the Houthis, and then downed three Iranian drones less than an hour later.
It did not specify if the drones shot down by the naval destroyer were designed for attack or surveillance.
American forces also destroyed a Houthi surface-to-air missile on Wednesday that CENTCOM said posed an imminent threat to “US aircraft” — a deviation from past air raids that focused on reducing the rebels’ ability to threaten international shipping.
It did not identify the type of aircraft that were threatened or the exact location of the strike, only saying that it took place in “Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen.”
Houthi attacks on ships in and around the Red Sea have slowed trade between Asia and Europe, raised fears of supply bottlenecks and alarmed major powers concerned that the Gaza war may become a regional conflict.
The Houthis began targeting Red Sea shipping in November, saying they were hitting Israeli-linked vessels in support of Palestinians in Gaza, which has been ravaged by the Israel-Hamas war.
US and UK forces have responded with strikes on the Houthis, who have since declared American and British interests to be legitimate targets as well.
Some of the US strikes have been carried out against missiles that CENTCOM has said posed an imminent threat to ships, indicating a robust surveillance effort focused on Houthi-controlled territory that likely involves military aircraft.
The United States also set up a multinational naval task force to help protect Red Sea shipping from the Houthis’ repeated attacks on the transit route, which carries up to 12 per cent of global trade.
In addition to military action, Washington has sought to put diplomatic and financial pressure on the Houthis, redesignating them as a terrorist organization earlier in January after previously having dropped that label soon after President Joe Biden took office.
But the Houthis’ attacks have persisted, with the rebels saying Wednesday that they targeted an American merchant ship bound for Israel with “several appropriate naval missiles that directly hit the vessel.”
Maritime security firm Ambrey said a commercial vessel was reportedly targeted with a missile southwest of Aden, and that the ship reported an explosion on its starboard side, but did not mention its nationality.
Earlier, the Houthis said they fired multiple missiles at American destroyer the USS Gravely - a claim that came after CENTCOM said the warship downed an anti-ship cruise missile launched “from Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen toward the Red Sea.”
Anger over Israel’s devastating campaign in Gaza - which it launched after an unprecedented attack by Hamas in October - has grown across the Middle East, stoking violence involving Iran-backed groups in Lebanon, Iraq and Syria, as well as Yemen.