Two missiles fired from rebel-held territory in Yemen landed near a U.S. warship in the Red Sea, the U.S. Navy said Monday.
Ian McConnaughey, a spokesman for U.S. Navy Forces Central Command, said it was unclear if the USS Mason — a guided missile destroyer based out of Norfolk — was specifically targeted, but the missiles were fired in its direction in the space of an hour from 7 p.m. local time Sunday.
The Navy said that no American sailors were injured and the warship was not damaged. Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said the missiles appeared to have been fired from territory in southern Yemen controlled by Iran-backed Shiite rebels known as Houthis, the Wall Street Journal reported.
The incident happened in international waters north of the Bab el-Mandeb Strait in the southern Red Sea, according to the WSJ.
"With the large number of groups that you have there, the instability that's going on in that part of the world in a number of areas, these things happen," said retired Army Colonel J. R. Reiling, an adjunct professor of political science and international studies at Old Dominion University. "You have a lot of angry young people with guns and weapons available to them and firing is going to happen."
As it happens, neither of the two Houthi missiles hit the USS Mason. The ship reportedly detected the two incoming missiles over a period of 60 minutes in the Red Sea.
A U.S. defense official said the first missile triggered counter measures from the Mason, and in the end both missiles landed in the water, with no injuries to sailors and no damage to the ship.
But, said Reiing, it's a good wakeup call, coming nearly 16 years to the day after the attack against the USS Cole of the coast of Yemen.
"It's always a reminder any time our force is out there, there is always potential threats out there to our forces," he said. "You always have to be vigilant, especially when you're on a vessel at sea. It's a 24 hour a day job."
The launches came as a ballistic missile fired from Yemen targeted an air base near the Muslim holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia, local media reported, in apparently the deepest strike into Saudi territory by Houthis and their allies.
The incidents follow a Saudi air strike on a funeral hall in the Yemeni capital Sanaa on Saturday that killed more than 140 people. The Saudi government said Sunday that it would investigate, with assistance from U.S. experts.
The USS Mason shipped out of Naval Station Norfolk on June First as part of the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group for what is scheduled to be a seven-month deployment.