U.S. Air Force/Senior Airman Cory D. Payne/Handout via REUTERS
- A US military drone was shot down over Yemen, US officials have confirmed. The Iranian-backed Houthi rebels have claimed responsibility.
- The drone was an MQ-9 Reaper, a $15 million unmanned aerial combat vehicle developed by General Atomics.
- This is the second time in three months the US has lost a drone over Yemen. The US military assesses that the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels who shot down an MQ-9 in June relied on Iranian assistance.
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A US military combat drone has been shot down over Yemen, marking the second time in three months the US has lost an unmanned aerial vehicle over the war-torn country.
Yemen's Houthi insurgency claimed responsibility, announcing that it downed a US MQ-9 Reaper hunter-killer drone, a $15 million unmanned aerial combat vehicle developed by General Atomics, in Dhamar, an area to the southeast of the Houthi-controlled capital of Sanaa.
"We are aware of reporting that a US MQ-9 was shot down over Yemen. We do not have any further information to provide at this time," US Central Command initially said in response to Insider's inquiries Tuesday evening.
"It's the Houthis, but it's enabled by Iran," another US official told Voice of America.
In a follow-up response to media questions, CENTCOM said Wednesday it is "investigating reports of an attack by Iranian-backed Houthis forces on a U.S. unmanned aircraft system (UAS) operating in authorized airspace over Yemen."
The US military has, to varying degrees, for years been supporting of a coalition of mostly Sunni Arab states, led by Saudi Arabia, fighting to restore the internationally-recognized government in Yemen as the Houthi rebels backed by Shia Iran push to topple it.
"We have been clear that Iran's provocative actions and support to militants and proxies, like the Iranian-backed Houthis, poses a serious threat to stability in the region and our partners," CENTCOM said in its statement Wednesday.
The Houthis shot down an US MQ-9 in mid-June with what CENTCOM assessed to be an SQ-6 surface-to-air missile. The US believes that the rebel group had help from the Iranians.
"The altitude of the engagement indicated an improvement over previous Houthi capability, which we assess was enabled by Iranian assistance," CENTCOM said in a statement
Around that same time, Iranian forces fired a modified Iranian SA-7 surface-to-air missile at an MQ-9 in an attempt to "disrupt surveillance of the [Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps] IRGC attack on the M/T Kokuka Courageous," one of the tankers targeted in a string of suspected limpet mine attacks the US has blamed on Iran, CENTCOM revealed, USNI News reported at the time. The Iranians failed to down the aircraft.
Toward the end of June, Iranian forces successfully shot down a US Navy Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS-D) aircraft, specifically a RQ-4A Global Hawk high-altitude long endurance (HALE) drone operating over the Strait of Hormuz.
President Donald Trump had initially planned to retaliate militarily against Iran but cancelled the mission after learning that striking would result in significant Iranian casualties, which would make the response disproportionate as the Iranians attacked an unmanned system.
Tensions between Iran and the US have spiked in recent months, as Washington put increased pressure on Tehran, leading it to push back with carefully calculated displays of force just below the threshold of armed conflict. The Houthis in Yemen have taken shots at the US before, firing not only on US combat drones but also US warships.