Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Yemeni Rebels Target a U.S. Warship Again, Pentagon Says
New York Times
OCT. 12, 2016

The United States destroyer Mason in the Gulf of Oman in September. Pentagon officials say Yemeni rebels have fired on the ship twice in four days. Credit Blake Midnight/U.S. Navy

WASHINGTON — Yemeni rebels on Wednesday fired on an American destroyer in the Red Sea for the second time in four days, Pentagon officials said, launching a missile that fell short of the warship but risked drawing the United States directly into the deepening civil war in Yemen.

Even though the attack inflicted no harm, it appeared that American officials were inching closer to retaliating against the rebels, known as Houthis, an indigenous Shiite group with loose connections to Iran who are fighting the Yemeni government. The Houthis are now believed to have fired at least three missiles in two attacks on the destroyer, the Mason, since Sunday.

“Those who threaten our forces should know that U.S. commanders retain the right to defend their ships,” said Peter Cook, a Pentagon spokesman. “We will respond to this threat at the appropriate time and in the appropriate manner.’’

The Mason was sailing in Bab el Mandeb, a strait at the southern end of the Red Sea, when it was fired upon around 6 p.m., Mr. Cook said. The Mason responded with defensive fire before the missile fell harmlessly into the sea. A second American ship cruising nearby, the Ponce, which is used to transport amphibious assault forces, was also untouched in the attack.

Mr. Cook said that the Mason was “conducting routine operations” when it was fired on near the strait, and that it would continue to sail in the area. The strait is one of the world’s most heavily trafficked waterways.

An American military official described the missile used in the attack as a coastal defense cruise missile meant to be used against ships and said it was sophisticated enough to inflict significant damage if it had hit. The same type of missile is believed to have been used by the Houthis in an attack on Oct. 1 that disabled a United Arab Emirates military logistics ship, the Swift.

The United States military was certain that the Houthis had fired the missile used in Wednesday’s attack, said the American official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid pre-empting the formal Pentagon statement. It came from an area under rebel control, and there were small skiffs in the area that may have been directing the missile fire.

The situation was similar to the one that unfolded on Sunday, when Houthi rebels appeared to have first targeted the Mason with a pair of coastal defense missiles. That attack also came from an area under control of the Houthis. Though the missiles failed to hit the ship, American officials have since said that they were investigating whether the ship had been targeted by radar under rebel control.

How the Houthi rebels obtained the missiles is not clear. They have seized ample amounts of military hardware in their two-year campaign to seize control of Yemen, and they are also believed to have received substantial aid from Iran, including advanced weaponry.

After the first missile attack against the Mason, the Pentagon suggested that it was weighing whether to retaliate against the rebels.

“Anybody who takes action, fires against U.S. Navy ships operating in international waters, does so at their own peril,” Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, told reporters on Tuesday.

The attack on Wednesday was likely to bolster the case of those pushing for retaliation. The United States has until now sought to play a behind-the-scenes role in Yemen by trying to broker a diplomatic end to the fighting while at the same time providing logistical support and intelligence to Saudi Arabia, which is leading an air campaign against the Houthis.

The Saudi-led campaign began in March 2015, about a year after the Houthis and army units loyal to Yemen’s former president Ali Abdullah Saleh first began battling to oust the country’s current president, Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

But the Saudi campaign has largely failed to stop the Houthis. Instead, much of Yemen is now on the brink of famine, and reports of civilians killed in airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition have become routine.

The latest civilian deaths came on Saturday, when Yemeni officials and witnesses said a series of airstrikes by the Saudis and their allies killed more than 100 people. The carnage appears to have undermined attempts to reopen talks on ending the war, and prompted the United States to begin what the Obama administration said was a review of its support for the Saudi-led coalition.

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