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U.S. Carries Out Strikes Against Yemen's Rebels

The guided missile destroyer USS Nitze launches a strike against coastal sites in Houthi-controlled territory on Yemen's Red Sea coast.

The U.S. launched missiles at three radar installations in rebel-controlled areas of Yemen late Wednesday. It's the first time that the U.S. has carried out strikes against the Houthi rebels during the conflict in Yemen.

This comes after missiles were fired from Yemen's coast at U.S. Navy destroyer USS Mason on two separate occasions in four days.

The ship was able to deploy "defensive countermeasures," according to a statement from Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook, and there was "no damage to the ship or its crew."

A U.S. official told NPR's Tom Bowman that the destroyer USS Nitze launched Tomahawk cruise missiles at the three locations, located north of a strategic strait called Bab al-Mandeb. "Initial assessments indicated that all three targets were destroyed," he tells Tom.

The Pentagon says that these strikes make it "much harder for these Houthi rebels to actually target any ship out in the Red Sea," as Tom reported on Morning Edition. He added that Pentagon officials said there was "no sense .. of any civilians being killed."

Meanwhile, Yemen's state news agency SABA — which is under Houthi control — denied that a U.S. warship was targeted. A "military official" called the allegations a pretext for the "Saudi-led coalition to escalate their aggression attacks against Yemen."

The Shiite Houthi rebels are backed by Iran and fighting alongside military units loyal to Yemen's former president Ali Abdullah Saleh. They took control of Yemen's capital, Sanaa, in late 2015 and seized large swaths of territory.

The war escalated in March 2015 when a Saudi-led coalition began an air campaign aimed at pushing the rebels back into their northern stronghold. This coalition supports Yemen's internationally-recognized, exiled leader Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi.

The war has killed almost 10,000 people – and according to the U.N., some 4,000 of those killed are civilians. The Saudi-led coalition has repeatedly been accused of causing civilian casualties, including an incident over the weekend where at least 140 civilians were killed while attending a funeral in Sanaa.

The U.S. provides crucial support to the Saudi-led coalition. As Tom explains, it is "providing air refueling capability, intelligence capability as well, and they've refueled as many as 5,000 flights – bombing flights – over Yemen."

Pentagon officials are referring to Wednesday's Tomahawk missile launches as "limited self-defense" strikes, Tom said. He added that "I don't think they would say they're involved in a civil war, but clearly they're being dragged in." Here's more from Tom:

"I think the U.S. would like to see some sort of a resolution here, but of course, once you start striking rebel areas, it makes it hard for you to be an honest broker here. But there's a growing concern, though, over the increasing civilian toll here – and there's a lot of concern in Congress about that in particular."

The U.S. said earlier this week that it was reconsidering its support for the Saudi-led coalition, as NPR's Jackie Northam reported. She added that the White House said the "long-standing security arrangement with the Saudis is not a blank check."

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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