US MQ-9 Reaper drone shot down by Houthis in Yemen as attacks surge

Pentagon asserts it is degrading Houthi military capabilities even as attacks continue unabated

An MQ-9 flies over over the USS Coronado in the Pacific Ocean during a training exercise in 2021. US Navy / AP
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The US on Tuesday confirmed that an MQ-9 Reaper drone was downed by Houthi militants in Yemen, the second time the Iran-backed rebels have hit one since November.

Pentagon deputy press secretary Sabrina Singh said the drone was shot down on Monday off the coast of Houthi-controlled areas near the Red Sea.

“Initial indications are that it was shot down by a Houthi surface-to-air missile,” she told reporters.

In November, the Pentagon acknowledged the loss of an MQ-9, worth about $30 million, which was also shot down by the Houthis over the Red Sea.

The Houthis have been firing missiles and drones at international vessels in the Red Sea since shortly after the Israel-Gaza war broke out in October. The group, which is allied with Hamas, says it wants to punish Israel and its allies for the war.

Three US and UK joint strikes in Yemen and at least 32 US “self-defence” strikes against the Houthis have failed to deter them from continuing their attacks so far.

President Joe Biden last month acknowledged the strikes were not having a deterrent effect, but the Pentagon insists the rebels' military infrastructure is suffering.

“Without getting into intelligence, I think it’s fair to say that the Houthis do have a large warehouse of capabilities,” Ms Singh said.

“But every single time that we conduct a strike, whether it be with our coalition partners, or whether it be unilateral … we do degrade their abilities and their capabilities.”

The US says its new Gulf operations are set up to safeguard international commerce through the waterway and contain regional fallout from the Israel-Gaza war.

The US military's Central Command (Centcom) on Tuesday also reported a string of Houthi attacks and American self-defence strikes in the past two days.

The US-owned and Greek-flagged carrier ship M/V Sea Champion was struck by two anti-ship ballistic missiles in the Gulf of Aden, but completed its maritime journey to deliver grain.

Centcom said the US-owned and Marshall Islands-flagged M/V Navis Fortuna was hit by an attack drone but continued travel to Italy with minimal damage.

The US said that it had shot down a drone in western Yemen that was “prepared to launch at ships in the Red Sea”.

“As of February 20, the US has taken 32 self-defence strike strikes, the most recent one being yesterday,” Ms Singh said.

Centcom also announced that the US and “coalition aircraft and warships shot down” 10 drones in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden.

Updated: February 21, 2024, 5:51 AM