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U.S. Official: Navy Fires At Radar Sites In Yemen After Navy Destroyer Was Targeted

The USS Mason conducts maneuvers as part of a exercise in the Gulf of Oman last month.
Blake Midnight
The USS Mason conducts maneuvers as part of a exercise in the Gulf of Oman last month.

Updated 11:15 p.m. ET with official reporting hits on radar sites

A U.S. official says the Navy has destroyed three radar locations in Yemen after missiles were fired at a U.S. destroyer off the Yemeni coast.

The official says:

"Earlier this evening (9 p.m. EDT / 4 a.m. local time in Yemen), the destroyer USS Nitze launched Tomahawk cruise missiles targeting three coastal radar sites in in Yemen along the Red Sea coast, north of the Bab-el-Mandeb strait. Initial assessments indicate that all three targets were destroyed.

"Destroying these radar sites will degrade their ability to track and target ships in the future. These radars were active during previous attacks and attempted attacks on ships in the Red Sea, including last week's attack on the USA-flagged vessel "Swift-2", and during attempted attacks on USS Mason and other ships as recently as today.

"The three radar sites were in remote areas, where there was little risk of civilian casualties or collateral damage. ...

"All of these are in Houthi-controlled territory."

Our original post:

The Pentagon says that a missile has been fired at U.S. Navy destroyer USS Mason off the coast of Yemen — for the second time in four days.

"At least one missile" originated from Houthi-controlled territory near the Red Sea port city of al-Hudaydah, Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said in a statement to NPR's Tom Bowman.

"The ship employed defensive countermeasures, and the missile did not reach the USS Mason," the statement reads. "There was no damage to the ship or its crew." He adds that the ship employed "defensive countermeasures," without elaborating.

Over the weekend, the USS Mason was targeted by two anti-ship missiles launched from Yemen's shore, as Tom reported. It happened as the ship was sailing through a narrow strait between Djibouti and Yemen called Bab al-Mandeb. The highly strategic area is the entrance to the Red Sea, which then links to the Suez Canal — a waterway crucial to global trade.

Yemen's Shiite Houthi rebels, who are backed by Iran, have controlled the capital, Sanaa, since late 2014. A Saudi-led, U.S.-backed coalition supports Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi — Yemen's internationally recognized, exiled leader. The coalition has been launching airstrikes since March 2015, aimed at pushing the rebels back into their northern stronghold.

The missiles fired Sunday "were variants of the so-called Silkworm missile ... a type of coastal defense cruise missile Iran is known to use," as The Associated Press reported.

The war has caused devastating casualties across the country. The U.N. estimates that at least 10,000 people have been killed during the conflict — and as NPR's Jackie Northam reports, nearly half of them are civilians.

It's not clear how the U.S. plans to respond. "Those who threaten our forces should know that U.S. commanders retain the right to defend their ships, and we will respond to this threat at the appropriate time and in the appropriate manner," Cook's statement reads.

As Tom reported, "the Pentagon has declined to say whether it is tracing the attacks and planning a retaliatory strike, but it did say on Tuesday that attackers of U.S. warships did so 'at their peril.' "

This comes as the U.S. is reviewing its involvement in the conflict, following a deadly airstrike at a funeral over the weekend that killed at least 140 people, as Jackie reported. She added:

"Saudi Arabia initially denied any involvement in Saturday's attack, which it called regrettable and painful. The kingdom later said it would launch an investigation, but did not admit responsibility."

Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut described the U.S. role in the conflict to Jackie: "The United States provides the bombs. We provide the refueling planes in midair. We provide the intel."

"I think it's safe to say that this bombing campaign in Yemen could not happen without the United States," he added.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Merrit Kennedy is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers a broad range of issues, from the latest developments out of the Middle East to science research news.