WASHINGTON (AFP): An American destroyer shot down multiple drones on Sunday while assisting commercial ships in the Red Sea that were targeted by attacks from Yemen, the US Central Command (CENTCOM) said.
Yemen’s Iran-backed Huthi rebels — who said they targeted two of the ships — launched a series of drones and missiles toward Israel in recent weeks and seized a cargo vessel last month, but the latest attacks mark a significant escalation in the threat to shipping in the area.
“Today, there were four attacks against three separate commercial vessels operating in international waters in the southern Red Sea,” CENTCOM said in a statement.
“The Arleigh-Burke Class destroyer USS Carney responded to the distress calls from the ships and provided assistance” and shot down three drones that were heading for the warship during the day, the statement said.
The Carney detected a missile fired from a Huthi-controlled area of Yemen that landed near the Bahamas-flagged M/V Unity Explorer, while the cargo ship later reported minor damage from another missile from a rebel-held area.
Panamanian-flagged M/V Number 9 — a bulk carrier — reported damage but no casualties caused by a missile from Yemen, while the M/V Sophie II, which also flies Panama’s flag, said it was struck as well but suffered no significant harm.
CENTCOM said the attacks “represent a direct threat to international commerce and maritime security”.
– ‘Enabled by Iran’ –
“We also have every reason to believe that these attacks, while launched by the Huthis in Yemen, are fully enabled by Iran. The United States will consider all appropriate responses in full coordination with its international allies and partners,” it said.
The Huthis claimed responsibility for attacks on the Unity Explorer and Number 9 in a statement on social media earlier in the day, saying the ships were Israeli and that attacks on the country’s vessels would continue “until the Israeli aggression against our steadfast brothers in the Gaza Strip stops”.
Hamas carried out a shock cross-border attack from Gaza on October 7 that Israeli officials say killed about 1,200 people.
Israel responded with a relentless land and air campaign that the Hamas-run health ministry in the Palestinian territory says has killed more than 15,500 people.
Those deaths have provoked widespread anger in the Middle East and provided an impetus for attacks against American troops in the region as well as on Israel by armed groups opposed to both.
Israel has faced drone and missiles launched from Lebanon and Yemen, while American forces in Iraq and Syria have been targeted in a series of attacks that have injured dozens of US personnel.
Washington has blamed the attacks on Iran-backed forces and responded with air strikes on multiple occasions.
US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin said in address to a security forum on Saturday that the United States “will not tolerate attacks on American personnel. And so these attacks must stop.”
“Until they do, we will do what we need to do to protect our troops — and to impose costs on those who attack them,” he said.