The United States military launched interceptor missiles in response to an attack by Yemen’s Houthi rebels that targeted the United Arab Emirates, officials have said.
The UAE said on Monday it had intercepted and destroyed a ballistic missile fired from Yemen as the Gulf state hosted Israeli President Isaac Herzog. It was the third such attack in the last two weeks, following incidents on January 24 and January 17, when three people were killed in an attack on a fuel depot.
While the UAE’s military has not acknowledged the US involvement in thwarting the latest missile attack, Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said late on Monday the US military had used “Patriot interceptors to … [support] efforts by the armed forces of the UAE”.
She added, “I would say we are working quite closely with them.”
The Pentagon also said US forces in the UAE activated Patriot missile defences but that it was the UAE’s surface-to-air interceptors that actually struck down the incoming missile. It left open the possibility of additional defensive military assistance.
The interventions mark a widening US involvement in Yemen’s seven-year war between the Houthis and a Saudi Arabia-led military coalition, which includes the UAE. While the US suspended its offensive support to the coalition fighting in support of Yemen’s exiled government, the UAE hosts some 2,000 US soldiers and serves as a crucial base of operations for the deployment of armed drones and F-35 stealth fighters.
Asked if the US support would include targets outside of the US airbase in al-Dhafra, Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby did not rule out further intervention.
“If we can help defend our Emirati partners, we’re going to do that,” Kirby said.
US President Joe Biden also mentioned the attack on the UAE at the White House during a visit by Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, saying, “America will have the backs of our friends in the region.”
Following the recent escalation in Houthi attacks against the UAE, the Saudi-led coalition retaliated by conducting air raids, including in the capital, Sanaa, that have inflicted dozens of civilian casualties and destroyed infrastructure and services.
Amnesty International has said the laser-guided bomb used by the Saudi-led coalition to hit a detention centre in Saada, northwestern Yemen, that killed 91 people had been manufactured by US defence company Raytheon.
This “is the latest piece in a wider web of evidence of the use of US-manufactured weapons in incidents that could amount to war crimes”, the watchdog said.
Meanwhile, a United Nations report said this week nearly 2,000 children recruited by the Houthis have died on the battlefield during the country’s war.
The war in Yemen has become the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, according to the UN. About 2.3 million Yemeni children below the age of five currently suffer from acute malnutrition, with 400,000 expected to suffer from life-threatening severe malnutrition in the coming months, UNICEF says.