Iran deployed two warships off Yemen threatening to further escalate tensions after the USA fired Tomahawk cruise missiles destroying three coastal radar sites in Houthi-controlled territory, a US official confirmed to Fox News on Thursday.
The radar sites, all located in territory in southern Yemen controlled by Iranian-backed Houthi rebels, were used during two separate attempted attacks against U.S. Navy ships, as well as in a third against a United Arab Emirates- flagged swiftboat, in the past few days, the Pentagon said.
The cruise missile strikes carried out by the U.S. Navy against Houthi positions in Yemen has sparked outrage from all sides in the Yemeni conflict, ranging from warnings to the U.S. that the war-riven land would become "a graveyard for America, ' to accusations of "staging a drama" to justify military intervention".
That bombing, among the deadliest of the war, likely sparked the rebels to launch more ballistic missiles in Saudi Arabia and target the US warships in the Red Sea.
"Initial assessments indicated that all three targets were destroyed", an unnamed USA official toldNPR. One involved a ship being operated by the United Arab Emirates, which was destroyed and then there were two other attacks from Yemen against an American destroyer the USS Mason before the Navy chose to return fire.
"These limited self-defense strikes were conducted to protect our personnel, our ships and our freedom of navigation in this important maritime passageway", Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook said.
The Houthi-controlled news agency quoted an unnamed rebel official as saying neither the movement nor its allies were involved in any of the recent missile attacks.
Knights said the targeting of US warship suggested the Houthis, fighters from a Shi'ite sect that ruled a 1,000-year kingdom in northern Yemen until 1962, could be becoming more militarily aligned with groups like Lebanon's Shi'ite militant group Hezbollah.
The missile fire from the Houthis missed the American ship, but chief of naval operations Adm. John Richardson said, "Enough was enough", and the Navy was ordered to launch five missile strikes.
The Mason had been targeted by two missiles, believed to be variants of the Chinese-made Silkworm, on Sunday.
The Houthis have denied any role in the strikes on the USS Mason.
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State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner said the sites "were specifically targeted in order to take out or in some way limit the ability for the Houthis to carry out these strikes". Neither missile got near the ship, said a USA military official.
That said, he did note US commanders remained uncertain as to who carried out the cruise missile attack.
The airstrike, on October 8, 2016, by the US -backed, Saudi-led coalition at a funeral service in Yemen killed scores of civilians, garnering worldwide outrage.
Based on photos and footage from a local human rights organization, British journalists and a local activist, the group identified the bomb used in the attack as a USA -made air-dropped GBU-12 Paveway II 500-pound laser-guided bomb.
"There was no damage to the ship or its crew". Al-Qaida claimed responsibility for that attack in 2000, and USA courts subsequently held the government of Sudan responsible; over $13 million in frozen Sudanese assets was released for compensation payments to relatives of the victims.
While most of the anger is directed at Yemen's neighbor, Saudi Arabia, there is also heavy animus toward the U.S. The strike also suggests any further attack on US warships will draw retaliatory American fire.
"In light of the attack over the weekend, with the scrutiny that attack legitimately calls for, we are going to undertake additional reviews of aid and assistance that goes to Saudi Arabia", Kirby said, according to an NPR report on the airstrike.
A funeral in Yemen's capital city Sana'a was hit by an airstrike Saturday, killing more than 140 people.
Yemen is an impoverished country on the southwestern tip of the Arabian Peninsula next to Bab-el-Mandeb, a narrow strait separating Yemen and the Horn of Africa that joins the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean.
On Sept. 27, the State Department responded to reports of USA citizens being held in Houthi-controlled territory, saying they were monitoring the situation and calling on the Houthis to release any us citizens. According to US military statistics, the frequency of USA refueling missions, which has fluctuated throughout the campaign, fell in late summer from a peak earlier in 2016.