The US warship operating in the Red Sea has for the third time in a week come under fire from multiple cruise missiles fired off the coast of Yemen. An American defense official told The Associated Press on Sunday that one of the ships saw on radar what sailors believed to be missiles being fired on it out of Yemen at night. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss details of the incident not yet made public.
Admiral John Richardson, the Navy's top officer, earlier said the destroyer USS Mason appeared "to have come under attack." The Navy says the Mason has been targeted twice already by missiles fired out of territory held by Shiite rebels and their allies in Yemen. The Shiite rebels, known as Houthis, have denied firing on American warships. Iran-backed Shiite Houthi rebels fired missiles on a U.S. Navy destroyer on Wednesday in their first direct attack on the U.S. Navy, which has several warships close to Yemeni waters. The U.S. military launched cruise missile strikes on Thursday in retaliating to failed missile attacks. The strikes, authorized by President Barack Obama, represent Washington's first direct military action against suspected Houthi-controlled targets in Yemen's conflict.
Iran-backed Houthi rebels seized the Yemeni capital Sanaa in September 2014, forcing the internationally recognized government to flee the country. A Saudi-led, U.S.-backed coalition has been conducting an extensive air campaign against the Houthis since March 2015 that has pushed the rebels out of southern Yemen. The U.N. says the conflict has left more than 6,600 people dead and displaced at least 3 million. Saudi Arabia leads a coalition of Muslim countries, backed by the U.S., the U.K. and France, in the war in neighboring Yemen.
The campaign, which is a campaign to restore the government ousted by the Iran-allied militia, is part of a larger assertive effort to prevent weapons from reaching Shiite Houthi rebels and their allies, who have overrun much of Yemen. Yemen is of critical importance to the U.S. as the country is home to one of America's biggest enemies: al-Qaida, as well as its deadliest franchise, al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which orchestrated numerous high-profile terror attacks, including the Charlie Hedbo Massacre in Paris, France. Since 2012, the U.S. has launched counterterror airstrikes and operations against radical militants as part of U.S. national security policy. The U.S.'s "targeted-killing policy" and other practices by the Obama administration have raised serious concerns regarding the rule of law, war crimes and the human cost of the U.S. security policy in Yemen.