US says it hit Huthi missile that threatened American planes

A photo released by the US Navy shows a warplane on the deck of the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower aircraft carrier -- which has taken part in operations against Yemen's Huthis -- on January 22, 2024 (Kaitlin Watt)
A photo released by the US Navy shows a warplane on the deck of the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower aircraft carrier -- which has taken part in operations against Yemen's Huthis -- on January 22, 2024 (Kaitlin Watt)

American forces destroyed a missile belonging to Yemen's Iran-backed Huthi rebels on Wednesday that posed an "imminent threat" to US aircraft, the military said.

The United States has carried out strikes on the Huthis both unilaterally and jointly with Britain, but previous air raids were focused on reducing the rebels' ability to target international shipping rather than addressing a danger to aircraft.

US forces "struck and destroyed a Huthi surface-to-air missile that was prepared to launch" after determining that it "presented an imminent threat to US aircraft," US Central Command (CENTCOM) said in a statement.

CENTCOM did not identify the type of aircraft that were threatened or the exact location of the strike, only saying that it took place in "Huthi-controlled areas of Yemen."

Huthi-run Al-Masirah television had earlier said US and UK aircraft had targeted the northern city of Saada, but did not identify the specific target or provide information on damage or casualties.

The rebels began targeting Red Sea shipping in November, saying they were hitting Israeli-linked vessels in support of Palestinians in Gaza, which has been ravaged by the Israel-Hamas war.

US and UK forces have responded with strikes on the Huthis, who have since declared American and British interests to be legitimate targets as well.

- Persistent attacks -

Some of the US strikes have been carried out against missiles that CENTCOM has said posed an imminent threat to ships, indicating a robust surveillance effort focused on Huthi-controlled territory that likely involves military aircraft.

The United States also set up a multinational naval task force last month to help protect Red Sea shipping from the Huthis, who are endangering a transit route that carries up to 12 percent of global trade.

In addition to military action, Washington has sought to put diplomatic and financial pressure on the Huthis, redesignating them as a terrorist organization earlier in January after previously having dropped that label soon after President Joe Biden took office.

But the Huthis' attacks have persisted, with the rebels saying Wednesday that they targeted an American merchant ship bound for Israel with "several appropriate naval missiles that directly hit the vessel."

Maritime security firm Ambrey said a commercial vessel was reportedly targeted with a missile southwest of Aden, and that the ship reported an explosion on its starboard side, but did not mention its nationality.

Earlier the same day, the Huthis said they fired multiple missiles at American destroyer the USS Gravely -- a claim that came after CENTCOM said the warship downed an anti-ship cruise missile launched "from Huthi-controlled areas of Yemen toward the Red Sea."

Anger over Israel's devastating campaign in Gaza -- which it launched after an unprecedented attack by Hamas in October -- has grown across the Middle East, stoking violence involving Iran-backed groups in Lebanon, Iraq and Syria, as well as Yemen.

American forces in the region have been attacked more than 165 times since mid-October.

A drone attack on a base in Jordan on Sunday killed three US soldiers, with Washington blaming Iran-backed militants and vowing a decisive response.

wd/st