The Pentagon said Sunday a U.S. warship and multiple commercial vessels are under attack in the Red Sea.
The development signifies a serious escalation in a series of maritime attacks in the Middle East linked to the Israel-Hamas war.
“We’re aware of reports regarding attacks on the USS Carney and commercial vessels in the Red Sea and will provide information as it becomes available, later,” Pentagon spokesman told Fox News, confirming reports of an attack on a U.S. warship in the Red Sea.
The Pentagon initially told the Associated Press, “We’re aware of reports regarding attacks on the USS Carney and commercial vessels in the Red Sea and will provide information as it becomes available.”
USS Carney is a Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer that has been shooting down drones and cruise missiles in recent weeks launched by Iran-backed Houthi rebels, who claimed credit for Sunday’s attack. An update is expected soon from the United States Central Command (CENTCOM).
The British military earlier said there had been a suspected drone attack and explosions in the Red Sea, without elaborating.
The Pentagon did not identify where it believed the fire came from. However, Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels have been launching a series of attacks on vessels in the Red Sea, as well as launching drones and missiles targeting Israel as it wages war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters, told the AP that the attack began about 10 a.m. in Sanaa, Yemen, and had been going on for as much as five hours. There was no immediate comment from the Houthis. However, a Houthi military spokesman earlier said an “important” statement would be released shortly.
Before reports of an attack on a U.S. warship in the Red Sea, former Obama CIA director and defense secretary Leon Panetta on Saturday evening at the Reagan National Defense Forum spoke about how the U.S. should respond to the increasing number of attacks by Iran’s proxy groups against U.S. forces in the Middle East.
“I would be much more aggressive,” Panetta said. “I want to go after those who are firing missiles at our troops and make sure they understand that when they fire a missile–they are going to die.”
U.S. forces in the Middle East have been attacked at least 75 times since the middle of last month. The Pentagon does not count attacks on U.S. warships at sea in this number.
Global shipping had increasingly been targeted as the Israel-Hamas war threatens to become a wider regional conflict — even as a truce has halted fighting and Hamas exchanges hostages for Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.
Earlier in November, the Houthis seized a vehicle transport ship also linked to Israel in the Red Sea off Yemen. The rebels still hold the vessel near the port city of Hodeida. Missiles also landed near another U.S. warship last week after it assisted a vessel linked to Israel that had briefly been seized by gunmen.
However, the Houthis had not directly targeted the Americans for some time, further raising the stakes in the growing maritime conflict. In 2016, the U.S. launched Tomahawk cruise missiles that destroyed three coastal radar sites in Houthi-controlled territory to retaliate for missiles being fired at U.S. Navy ships, including the USS Mason, at the time.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.