Yemen's Houthi rebels fired an anti-ship cruise missile at an American destroyer in the Red Sea on Sunday, but a U.S. warplane shot it down in the latest attack to rock global shipping during Israel's war with Hamas in the Gaza Strip , officials said.
The attack marks the first U.S.-recognized attack by the Houthis since America and allied nations began attacks on the rebels on Friday after weeks of attacks on ships in the Red Sea.
Because of the Israel-Hamas war, the Houthis have targeted this vital corridor that connects energy and cargo shipments from Asia and the Middle East via the Suez Canal and on to Europe. These attacks threaten to escalate the conflict into a regional conflagration.
The Houthis, an Iran-allied Shiite rebel group that captured Yemen's capital in 2014, did not immediately acknowledge the attack.
It was not immediately clear whether the U.S. would retaliate for the latest attack, although President Joe Biden said he “will not hesitate to take further action if necessary to protect our people and free international trade.”
A projectile fired during a military exercise is seen near the Yemen-Saudi Arabia border in the Al-Baqaa area of northern Saada province, Yemen, on January 11, 2024. HOUTHIS MEDIA CENTER HANDOUT/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
Houthi fire on Sunday targeted the USS Laboon, an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer operating in the southern part of the Red Sea, the US military's Central Command said in a statement.
The US said the missile came from near Hodeida, a Red Sea port long held by the Houthis.
“An anti-ship cruise missile was fired at the USS Laboon from Iranian-backed Houthi militant areas in Yemen,” Central Command said. “No injuries or damage were reported.”
Tribal supporters of the Houthi group burn U.S. and British flags during a protest against recent U.S.-led attacks on Houthi targets near Sanaa, Yemen, on Jan. 14, 2024. Portal
On the first day of U.S.-led attacks Friday, 28 locations and more than 60 targets were hit with cruise missiles and bombs fired from fighter jets, warships and a submarine. The affected locations included weapons depots, radar equipment and command centers, including in remote mountainous areas, the US said.
The Houthis have not yet acknowledged the extent of the damage caused by the attacks, which they said killed five of their troops and wounded six others.
US forces then carried out an attack on a Houthi radar site on Saturday.
A missile is fired from a warship targeting the Iran-backed Houthi militia that has attacked international ships in the Red Sea during the U.S.-led coalition operation against military targets in Yemen, Jan. 12, 2024. via Portal
Shipping through the Red Sea has slowed due to the attacks. The US Navy warned American-flagged ships on Friday to stay away from areas around Yemen in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden for 72 hours after the first airstrikes.
The Houthis, for their part, claimed, without providing evidence, that the US struck a site near Hodeida on Sunday around the same time as the cruise missile fire.
The Americans and the United Kingdom did not admit to carrying out an attack – suggesting the explosion may have come from a misfiring Houthi missile.
Since November, the rebels have repeatedly attacked ships in the Red Sea, allegedly in revenge for Israel's offensive in the Gaza Strip against Hamas.
But they have often targeted ships with weak or no clear ties to Israel, endangering shipping on a key route of global trade.
Although the Biden administration and its allies have tried for weeks to calm tensions in the Middle East and prevent a wider conflict, the attacks threatened to trigger one.
Saudi Arabia, which supports Yemen's government-in-exile fighting the Houthis, has sought to distance itself from attacks on Houthi sites as it tries to maintain a delicate détente with Iran and a ceasefire in Yemen.
The Saudi-led, U.S.-backed war in Yemen that began in 2015 has killed more than 150,000 people, including fighters and civilians, and caused one of the world's worst humanitarian disasters, killing tens of thousands more.
The American military did not specifically state that the fire was directed at the Laboon, following a US pattern since the Houthi attacks began.
However, U.S. sailors have received combat badges for their deployments in the Red Sea – something awarded only to those engaged in active hostilities with an enemy force.