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US drone that crashed in Yemen appears to have been shot down by Houthi missile, official says

<i>Isaac Brekken/Getty Images/File</i><br/>In this 2015 file photo
Isaac Brekken/Getty Images/File
In this 2015 file photo

By Haley Britzky, CNN

(CNN) — Initial indications are that a US MQ-9 Reaper drone that crashed near Hodeidah in Yemen early Monday morning was shot down by a Houthi surface-to-air missile, a US official said Tuesday.

Previously, officials said it was unclear if the drone had been shot down or simply crashed. A spokesperson for the Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen said in a statement posted to X on Monday that the MQ-9 was shot down “with a suitable missile.”

The incident on Monday is still being investigated.

The Houthis also shot down a MQ-9 — which is an unmanned drone typically used for intelligence collection — in November off the coast of Yemen.

The Houthis’ apparent downing of a US drone comes amid regular attacks by the rebel group on commercial shipping in the Red Sea and increasingly regular strikes by the US on their capabilities in Yemen, many of which have been conducted on missiles or drones that are preparing to launch.

On Monday alone, the Houthis launched a barrage of missiles and drones toward merchant vessels and US and coalition warships over the course of multiple hours. In two instances, they struck US-owned commercial ships, according to a US official.

Between 12:30 and 1:50 p.m. on Monday, two anti-ship ballistic missiles were launched toward the M/V Sea Champion, a US-owned, Greek-flagged grain carrier in the Gulf of Aden. No injuries were reported, though the attack resulted in minor damage, the official said. The US-owned, Marshall Islands-flagged M/V Navis Fortuna, a bulk carrier, was struck Monday evening by a one-way attack drone, which resulted in minor damage but no injuries. The Navis Fortuna continues its voyage, the official said.

The Houthis’ spokesperson said Monday evening the group targeted two US ships “with a number of appropriate naval missiles,” adding that it was in support of Palestinian people and in response to “the American-British aggression against Yemen.”

State Department spokesman Matthew Miller specifically called out the attack on the Sea Champion Tuesday, saying it was bringing “corn and other food supplies to the Yemeni people in Aden.”

“This was a reckless attack on a ship delivering humanitarian assistance to the Yemeni people, and I think it was another sign that the Houthis continue to demonstrate disregard, not just for international shipping, not just for supplies that are going to benefit civilians all around the world, in many cases, far from the region, but ultimately, for their own people,” Miller said.

Two more anti-ship ballistic missiles were also launched Monday evening toward the M/V Rubymar, a Belize-flagged, UK-owned bulk carrier, one of which struck the ship and resulted in damage. The Rubymar issued a distress call and was assisted by a coalition warship and merchant vessel that responded.

The US also took action on Monday, including destroying the surface-to-air missile launcher. At 8:15 p.m. Monday evening, the US destroyed a one-way attack drone in western Yemen preparing to launch against ships in the Red Sea.

And over a course of several hours that evening — from roughly 8 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. — US and coalition aircraft and warships shot down 10 more one-way attack drones in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, the official said.

The USS Laboon, a US Navy destroyer, also shot down an anti-ship cruise missile that was heading in its direction.

On Saturday, the US also carried out five self-defense strikes in Yemen on three mobile anti-ship cruise missiles, one unmanned surface vessel and one unmanned underwater vessel.

It was the first observed use by the Houthis of an unmanned underwater vehicle since their attacks began in October, CENTCOM said, following Hamas’ invasion of Israel and Israel’s campaign in Gaza.

The US has also carried out multiple strikes alongside the UK over the last several weeks, targeting munitions, launching systems, command and control nodes, storage sites and air surveillance.

This story has been updated with additional reporting.

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