Pentagon Confirms US Drone Downed Near Yemen as Clashes With Houthis Continue

Ryan Morgan
By Ryan Morgan
February 20, 2024Middle East
Pentagon Confirms US Drone Downed Near Yemen as Clashes With Houthis Continue
An MQ-9 Reaper remotely piloted aircraft flies by during a training mission at Creech Air Force Base in Indian Springs, Nev., on Nov. 17, 2015. (Isaac Brekken/Getty Images)

An unmanned U.S. MQ-9 Reaper drone was downed off the coast of Yemen on Monday morning, U.S. defense officials confirmed to NTD News on Tuesday.

The Houthi rebel movement initially claimed responsibility for downing the U.S. unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) on Monday, with Houthi spokesman Yahya Sare’e claiming on social media platform X that Houthi forces targeted the UAV with a “suitable missile” as it was carrying out “hostile missions” against Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen.

Deputy Pentagon Press Secretary Sabrina Singh confirmed a U.S. MQ-9 drone was shot down near Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen on Monday and said, “Initial indications are that it was shot down a by Houthi surface-to-air missile.”

Ms. Singh said the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM)—the U.S. military component overseeing operations throughout the Middle East—is looking into options to recover the downed U.S. drone.

“I don’t believe it has been recovered at this time,” she added.

MQ-9 Reaper drones are equipped for both airborne surveillance and armed strikes, and is capable of carrying and launching a variety of missiles and bombs.

Ms. Singh could not say whether the MQ-9 that was shot down off the coast of Yemen was armed at the time it went down.

The loss of the U.S. MQ-9 drone comes amid recent clashes with the Houthis.

The Yemeni rebel movement, also known as Ansar Allah, has repeatedly launched missiles and explosive one-way drones targeting commercial shipping through the Red Sea and adjoining Gulf of Aden. The Houthis, who are a Zaydi Shiite Muslim movement, have said they are conducting these missile and drone attacks in solidarity with Palestinian factions opposed to Israel. The Houthis have said they are targeting commercial vessels that they believe are connected to Israel as Israeli forces fight in the Gaza Strip to defeat Hamas—a Palestinian faction designated as a terrorist organization by both the United States and Israel.

Houthi Attacks ‘Getting More Sophisticated’: Pentagon

U.S. forces in operation in the Middle Eastern waterways have intercepted numerous missile and drone attacks targeting civilian vessels, and since Jan. 11 have conducted dozens of airstrikes on suspected Houthi missile launch sites on Yemeni soil.

A helicopter assigned to the USS Gravely exchanged fire with a trio of armed Houthi speedboats suspected of targeting a cargo ship in the Red Sea in December. The Houthis acknowledged that 10 of their fighters were killed in the confrontation.

In recent weeks, Houthi officials have claimed credit for missile and drone attacks directly targeting U.S. warships operating in the region.

Houthi missiles damaged the cargo ship transiting a Belize-flagged, U.K.-owned cargo ship in the Bab el-Mandeb Strait on Sunday, hours before the U.S. MQ-9 Reaper went down. The civilian vessel, Rubymar, reportedly sustained serious damage and is currently at risk of sinking. CENTCOM reported a coalition warship and another civilian vessel responded to a distress call from the damaged cargo ship.

Ms. Singh said U.S. forces have observed unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV) also being employed in recent attacks on Red Sea shipping.

“Their attacks are getting more sophisticated,” Ms. Singh said.

The Pentagon spokeswoman said U.S. and coalition strikes in Yemen are degrading the Houthi’s offensive capabilities, but cautioned that they can’t stop every attack.

“Every single day that we initiate another dynamic strike we are taking another surface-to-air missile off the map for [The Houthis]. They can’t necessarily say the same for us. We are using our capabilities to shoot down whether it be missiles or UAVs or in this case, the underwater unmanned vehicle,” Ms. Singh said. “We are being able to stop them but again, sometimes the attacks do get through.”

Ms Singh assessed the Houthis still have “a large inventory” of weapons available.

The U.S. government has intermittently characterized the Houthis as a terrorist organization. The Yemeni faction was listed as a foreign terrorist organization (FTO) and as a specially designated global terrorist entity (SDGT) in the final days of President Donald Trump’s presidency in January 2021. President Joe Biden’s administration revoked the terrorism labels in February 2021 but reapplied the SDGT designation against the group amid the recent attacks on commercial shipping in the region.

The U.S. government has long suspected the Iranian regime of supplying and funding the Houthis. The Iranian side has cheered the pattern of Houthi attacks but has previously denied arming the group or helping it plan its attacks.

U.S. forces have reported intercepted suspected Iranian weapons shipments to Yemen twice since January.

“We know that Iran is continuing to supply” the Houthis, Ms. Singh said.

The Pentagon spokeswoman said U.S. weapon consumption rates and losses in the ongoing conflict with the Houthis could become unsustainable in the long run if the U.S. military continues to operate on a short-term budget based on successive continuing resolutions, as it is currently. She reiterated the Biden administration’s calls for Congress to approve a full 2024 fiscal year budget and approve a supplemental spending bill that includes added funding for U.S. operations in the Middle East, as well as around $60 billion in new U.S. support for Ukraine.

Efforts to pass the supplemental spending bill have met opposition from many Republican lawmakers who have demanded more stringent border security measures and have expressed growing doubts about continuing to fund the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war instead of pressing for a settlement.

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