Missiles fired at US warships in Red Sea, no casualties — US official
In this March 12, 2011 file photo, US destroyer USS Mason sails in the Suez canal in Ismailia, Egypt (AP photo)
WASHINGTON — Multiple missiles were fired on Saturday at three US warships in the Red Sea, though none was hit and there were no casualties, the US military said, amid rising tensions with Yemen’s Houthi rebels.
A US defence official said the altercation took place starting around 1930 GMT. It was unclear how many of the surface-to-surface missiles were fired at the USS Mason, USS Nitze and USS Ponce.
The USS Mason destroyer, which was sailing in international waters off Yemen’s coast earlier this week, used unspecified countermeasures against the incoming missiles, the official said.
The attempted missile strikes were the most serious escalation yet of America’s involvement in a deadly civil war that has killed more than 6,800 people, wounded more than 35,000 and displaced at least three million since a Saudi-led coalition launched military operations last year.
Officials have stressed that Washington wants to avoid getting embroiled in yet another war in an already volatile region where America is to varying degrees waging wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria.
On Thursday, the US Navy launched five Tomahawk cruise missiles at three mobile radar sites in Houthi-controlled territory on Yemen’s Red Sea coast, after the Iran-backed rebels blasted rockets at the USS Mason twice in four days.
The military insists these moves are taken out of self-defence. The Houthis have denied conducting the attacks.
Though the United States is providing logistical support to a Saudi-led coalition battling the rebels, Thursday’s launches marked the first time Washington has taken direct action against the Houthis.
But the US strikes earlier this week did not take out Houthi missiles and, though the radar destruction makes it harder to aim the weapons, officials have warned rebels could still use spotter boats or online ship-tracking websites to find new targets.
The rockets fired at the USS Mason on Sunday and again Wednesday were believed to be the first time since 1987 that a US warship has been targeted by an incoming missile.
The U.S. Navy destroyer USS Mason was fired on again in international waters off the coast of Yemen, but the ship deployed countermeasures and the vessel was not struck, two U.S. officials said.
The incident occurred late Saturday or early Sunday local time. At least one missile was fired, the officials said.
“The Mason once again appears to have come under attack in the Red Sea, again from coastal defense cruise missiles fired from the coast of Yemen,” Navy Admiral John Richardson, chief of naval operations, told reporters at an event in Baltimore Saturday.
The destroyer was targeted by missiles fired from rebel-controlled areas in Yemen twice earlier this week, prompting the U.S. military to launch cruise missiles that destroyed three radar sites in response.
After the earlier attempted missile attacks this week, a Defense Department official warned that those who fire on U.S. vessels do so at their peril.
Yemen is embroiled in a two-year-long conflict between Houthi rebels and forces loyal to the President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi. More than 4,000 civilians have been killed since the conflict escalated in March 2015, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said on Monday.
Secretary of State John Kerry called for a cease fire between the groups Sunday in London. “We cannot emphasize enough today the urgency of ending the violence in Yemen,” he told reporters, according to Reuters.
The U.S. strike against radar installations in Yemen were carried out by the USS Nitze at around 4 a.m. Thursday local time and involved Tomahawk cruise missiles, the military said.
“They have everything that they need to defend themselves from these attacks and respond when needed,” Richardson said of the ships.
The missiles were fired on the USS Mason this week as it was in the area of the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, officials said.
After the U.S. strikes in Yemen, Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said in a statement: “The United States will respond to any further threat to our ships and commercial traffic, as appropriate, and will continue to maintain our freedom of navigation in the Red Sea, the Bab al-Mandeb, and elsewhere around the world.”
U.S. investigates possible fire from Yemen
DUBAI/LONDON: The U.S. Navy Sunday began investigating a possible overnight missile attack from Yemen on a group of American warships in the Red Sea amid uncertainty about what transpired.
The Red Sea and the nearby strategic Bab al-Mandab Strait, a crucial chokepoint for international shipping and crude oil, has been the scene of what the U.S. describes as at least two missile attacks from rebel-held territory in Yemen. American forces have fired back once with Tomahawk missiles, destroying mobile radar positions in the first shots fired by the U.S. in anger in the stalemated conflict.
In the latest incident, a group of American warships in the Red Sea Saturday night “had indications of a possible inbound missile threat and deployed appropriate defensive measures,” said Capt. Paula Dunn, a spokeswoman for U.S. Navy Forces Central Command. She said in a statement that all ships and sailors were safe, without elaborating.
An American defense official told the Associated Press 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.
Yemen’s Shiite rebels, known as Houthis, and their allies did not immediately comment on the incident Saturday. Previously, the Houthi-controlled SABA news agency ran dispatches denying rebels ever fired on American warships.
Adm. John Richardson, the Navy’s top officer, said earlier Saturday the destroyer USS Mason appeared “to have come under attack.” The Mason, an Arleigh Burke class of guided missile destroyer whose home port is Norfolk, Virginia, has been targeted twice before by missile fire out of Yemen, according to the U.S. Navy. Also known to be in the Red Sea near the Mason are the USS Nitze and the USS Ponce.
Previously, an Emirati-leased swift boat came under rocket fire near the same area as the Mason and sustained serious damage. The United Arab Emirates described the vessel as carrying humanitarian aid and having a crew of civilians, while the Houthis called the boat a warship.
Yemen has been at war since September 2014, when the Houthis swept into the capital, Sanaa. A coalition of Sunni Arab nations launched a campaign against the Houthis in March 2015.
Yemen’s war is largely overshadowed by the conflict against Daesh (ISIS) elsewhere in the Middle East, though rights groups have mounted increased criticism of airstrikes in recent months for killing civilians. The U.N. and rights groups estimate the conflict has killed at least 9,000 people and displaced nearly 3 million more. The U.S. had been providing logistical and intelligence support to the coalition fighting in Yemen, but had begun to withdraw its support in recent weeks over the civilian casualties from its air campaign.
US navy may have been fired at for a third time from Houthi-controlled territory
ABU DHABI // The US navy has said that one of its warships near the Bab Al Mandeb strait may have come under another missile attack from Houthi-controlled territory in Yemen – what would be the third unsuccessful strike against the ships in seven days.
The ships “had indications of a possible inbound missile threat and deployed appropriate defensive measures” late on Saturday, said Capt Paula Dunn, a spokeswoman for US navy forces central command, adding that all of the vessels and their crews were unharmed.
It came as the United States and Britain called on Sunday for an immediate and unconditional ceasefire in Yemen to end violence between the Iran-backed Houthi rebels and the internationally-recognised government of president Abdrabu Mansur Hadi.
“This is the time to implement a ceasefire unconditionally and then move to the negotiating table,” said US secretary of state John Kerry after meeting British foreign secretary Boris Johnson, UN envoy to Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed and other officials in London.
He added that they were calling for the implementation of the ceasefire “as rapidly as possible, meaning Monday, Tuesday”.
US officials said on Friday that two previous attacks on its warships had been carried out by the Houthis. It came a day after the US navy launched retaliatory Tomahawk cruise missile strikes against three radar sites in rebel-controlled territory along the Yemeni coast. The officials said these sites were involved in the attacks.
The USS Mason, a guided-missile destroyer, is one of at least three American warships deployed near the strategic Bab Al Mandeb strait to protect shipping lanes after the Houthis struck a UAE-leased transport ship on October 1. It appears to have been the target of the two previous Houthi attacks against the US ships, as well as the latest suspected attack.
Before the suspected attack on Saturday night US officials had hoped that their first direct military intervention against the Shiite rebels would be a one-off strike – intended only to deter further attacks rather than cripple the Houthis’ capabilities.
“They have other capabilities we didn’t disable. We destroyed these sites but we did not disable their entire capability, and nor was it the intention to do that,” a senior official in the Obama administration said on Friday, adding: “We were very clear that this was not meant to indicate support for [Saudi-led] coalition operations either in Yemen writ large or on the Red Sea … we were not intending to be brought into the war in any fashion.”
The Saudi-led coalition, which includes the UAE, is fighting the Houthis and their allies in Yemen to restore Mr Hadi’s government.
The US – which has sought to help broker peace negotiations between the two sides – may not have intended its Thursday strikes to aid the coalition but it has been a crucial participant in the alliance’s air campaign against the Houthis, providing logistics, refuelling and intelligence support as well as munitions sales.
In recent months, however, Washington has become increasingly critical of Saudi Arabia’s conduct in the war. The senior official called the Saudi bombing of a funeral in Sanaa that killed more than 140 people “particularly egregious”, and US assistance – which has already been reduced – is under White House review.
Riyadh accepted responsibility for the attack on Saturday, saying it had received erroneous targeting information from Yemeni forces and that it would work to compensate victims’ families.
While Washington says it does not want to be drawn directly into the conflict – apart from its ongoing counter-terrorism operations, which are carried out in coordination with UAE forces – the risks of escalation appear to be increasing with the latest potential Houthi attack on the US ships.
The Houthis have denied firing at the American vessels, and the US officials said they did not know why the rebels launched the anti-ship missiles. “There could be different elements within the Houthis who are pursuing different, slightly different objectives,” a second administration official said on Friday.
Iran has also deployed two warships to the Gulf of Aden, its state media reported last week. Tehran has supplied arms to the Houthis but it has not been confirmed whether the missile systems the rebels are using to target ships in the Red Sea were provided by Iran or came from pre-existing Yemeni stocks that fell under rebel control.
Also on Saturday, the US announced that Oman had secured the release of two US citizens who had been held captive by the Houthis. The names of the Americans were not released. Oman, the only GCC country not participating in the Saudi-led coalition, has been key to helping free hostages held by the rebels, including an American journalist released earlier this year and five other Americans released late last year. A statement carried by Omani state media and remarks by Mr Kerry indicated that there are other Americans still being held by the Houthis.
“We’re very pleased with [the release of the two Americans] obviously and we continue to work on other hostage situations there and elsewhere,” Mr Kerry said on Sunday.
Yemeni rebels claim third anti-ship missile attack
29 October 2015
Ansar Allah, the Yemeni group that ousted the country’s president last year, claimed on 26 October that it had sunk a naval vessel off the coast of Taizz province using an anti-ship missile.
This was the third time the group claimed to have launched an attack on a naval vessel operated by the Arab coalition that is fighting to reinstall the president. It was also the first such occurrence to be accompanied by footage purportedly showing the targeted warship and the missile being launched.
The footage initially aired by Al-Masirah TV, a Yemeni channel that supports Ansar Allah, showed one of the United Arab Emirates’ (UAE’s) Baynunah-class corvettes apparently filmed from another vessel. It later released more footage that clearly showed the Egyptian Navy’s Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigate Taba (916). Neither vessel was seen being attacked.
The extended Al-Masirah package also identified a Baynunah corvette and the Saudi replenishment vessel Yunbou as the targets of the attacks supposedly carried out on 7 and 10 October.
Al-Masirah’s footage of the missile being launched was shot at night, making it impossible to identify the system involved. However, it did appear to show a booster motor dropping away from the missile after the launch, which is consistent with the Chinese-made C-801 missile that is in service with the Yemeni Navy.
Brigadier General Sharaf Luqman, the spokesman for the Yemeni military units allied to Ansar Allah, told Al-Masirah the missile had hit the middle of the vessel and destroyed it. He added that any naval vessels approaching Yemen’s coast would meet a similar fate.
None of the Arab countries participating in the coalition responded to the anti-ship missile attack claims or reported any naval casualties.
Meanwhile, the UAE-based Sky News Arabia aired footage on 27 October showing an airstrike completely destroying a dhow that – its source said – was smuggling weapons into Yemen.