The U.S. military executed a missile strike against targets in Yemen after rebels fired missiles on a Navy warship from coastal areas, a senior military official said.
The Tomahawk missiles were fired in the early morning hours of Oct. 13, about 4 a.m. local time, from the the destroyer USS Nitze, NBC News reported. The military told the network the ship's targets -- three coastal encampments controlled by Houthi rebels -- were successfully destroyed.
President Barack Obama authorized the missile strikes after consulting with Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Joseph Dunford, Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook told NBC.
"These limited self-defense strikes were conducted to protect our personnel, our ships and our freedom of navigation in this important maritime passageway," Cook said. "The United States will respond to any further threat to our ships and commercial traffic, as appropriate, and will continue to maintain our freedom of navigation in the Red Sea, the Bab el-Mandeb and elsewhere around the world."
Yemen has been embroiled in a civil war between rebels and forces loyal to Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi since March 2015. The conflict has become a war by proxy for major powers in the Middle East, with Saudi Arabia backing Hadi after accusing the Iranian government of aiding the rebels.
Compounding the problem is the involvement of terrorist groups like al-Qaida, which the BBC notes has sown chaos by attacking both loyalist and rebel forces in the country.
The U.S. has been the target of criticism for supplying many of the weapons the Saudis have been using to bomb rebel-held areas in Yemen, and for backing the Saudi government's interference in the Yemeni civil war.
On Oct. 11 State Department spokesman John Kirby was at a loss to explain how the U.S. could condemn Russian involvement in Syria while supporting Saudi Arabia's meddling in Yemen, the Independent reported.
“I was just wondering: Does the administration see any difference between this kind of thing, and what you accuse the Russians, Syrians and the Iranians of doing in Syria, and particularly Aleppo?” Matt Lee of The Associated Press asked.
A flummoxed Kirby didn't reply for several seconds and stammered, apparently trying to buy time, before telling Lee the Saudi intervention is justified because they are "under real threat on their side of the border in that war."
The U.S. sold $1.3 billion in arms to the Saudis in 2016, and those weapon systems have been used in airstrikes that have killed civilians -- including an Oct. 8 airstrike that killed 140 civilians attending a funeral. Previously, Saudi airstrikes on hospitals and factories have killed hundreds of civilians.
More than 10,000 civilians have been killed in Yemen's civil war since it began in 2015, according to the United Nations.
The Yemeni rebels were not successful in their attacks on U.S. Navy ships off the coast, but U.S. officials warned the rebels against trying to strike American targets again.
U.S. officials said the crew of the USS Mason noted rebel spotters before the ship's defensive systems fired SM-2 and Sea Sparrow missiles to destroy the incoming projectile.
"Anybody who puts U.S. Navy ships at risk does so at their own peril," Capt. Jeff Davis, a U.S. Defense Department spokesman, told NBC News.