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The U.S. military now assesses that one or more missiles that were launched from Yemen and traveled in the same general direction as a U.S. warship in the neighboring Gulf of Aden on Monday morning were not targeting the U.S. Navy vessel.
The U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), the command in charge of U.S. military operations in the Middle East, initially reported a pair of ballistic missiles launched from an area of Yemen controlled by Houthi rebel forces, and that the missiles landed approximately 10 nautical miles (about 11.5 miles) from the Arleigh-Burke class guided-missile destroyer USS Mason at around 1:40 a.m. local time on Monday.
The initial CENTCOM press statement noted these missile launches took place shortly after the USS Mason responded to a distress call from a merchant ship, M/V Central Park, late on Sunday evening and that the U.S. warship’s crew had detained five armed individuals who had boarded the merchant ship.
During his Monday remarks, Brig. Gen. Ryder said it wasn’t clear what the ballistic missiles were targeting. At a Tuesday afternoon press briefing, the Pentagon spokesman delivered a new update, ruling out the possibility that the missiles were meant to strike the U.S. warship or the merchant vessel.
“As it pertains to the incident with the missiles right now, our current analysis is that we know that there was at least one missile fired. We’re continuing to look into that, whether it was one or two, but we know that there was at least one missile,” Brig. Gen. Ryder announced. “And we also, at this point, assess that the vessels the Mason and the Central Park, were not the intended targets. That said, I can’t speak for what the intended target was and would have to refer you to the Houthis.”
Houthi Connection to Missile Launches Unclear
The Houthis, also known as Ansar Allah, are a Zaydi Shiite movement that has intermittently fought with Yemen’s internationally recognized government since 2004. Their conflict expanded after the Houthis forcefully took over the Yemeni capital of Sanaa in September 2014, bringing on an ongoing civil war.
The United States has supported the Saudi-led coalition throughout the conflict, and the U.S. State Department assesses that Iran is supporting the Houthi side in the conflict.
Brig. Gen. Ryder referred questions about terrorist designations for the Houthi movement to the U.S. State Department.