The US has back-tracked from its earlier claims that Yemen’s Houthi rebels attacked the USS Mason, which led the US to bomb Yemen and enter yet another war in the Middle East.
Since March 2015, Yemen has been the site of a brutal, one-sided war between Houthi rebels, backed by Iran, and Saudi Arabia. The Houthi rebels overthrew then-Yemeni President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, who many Yemenis perceived as a US puppet, and the Houthi revolution enjoyed considerable public support. However, a Houthi-led government threatened to all, but eradicate Saudi influence in Yemen, propelling the Saudis to begin a vicious bombing campaign that has claimed the lives of over 10,000, the majority of them civilians. The US joined the fray last Thursday after the Pentagon claimed that the US Navy’s USS Mason was the victim of two consecutive missile attacks. The Pentagon said, at the time, that the missiles had been launched by Houthi rebel forces. The USS Nitze retaliated, launching several Tomahawk cruise missiles at radar installations located by the straight of Bab el-Mandab.
Pentagon Spokesman Peter Cook said that the US attack on Yemen were a series of “limited self-defense strikes” that were conducted to “protect our personnel, our ships, and our freedom of navigation.” Cook argued that the radars targeted had been used in the alleged attack on the USS Mason. Another military official added that the radars were in rural areas, making the risk of civilian casualties negligible. Yet, at the time, there were growing concerns that the Pentagon had no official proof that the Houthis, or those who support them, were responsible for the attempted strikes on US ships. Despite that, the US decided on a characteristic “bomb now, think later” approach, attacking Yemen without a declaration of war, breaching Yemeni sovereignty, and potentially killing an unknown number of civilians.
Now, only a few days later, the story has changed. According to Reuters, the Pentagon declined to say whether the USS Mason had been targeted at all by inbound missiles from Yemen and said that a review was underway to determine what really happened. Cook stated that “we are still assessing the situation. There are still some aspects to this that we are trying to clarify for ourselves given the threat, the potential threat, to our people. […] So this is still a situation that we’re assessing closely.” However, the US had no problem “assessing” the source of the threat last week when it fired missiles into Yemen.
Some have suggested that the Pentagon was intentionally misguided into the conflict by nefarious Saudi intervention that sought to draw the US into the war. Indeed, the only logical alternative – that is, if it is proved that the missile attack did not originate in Yemen – is that the Saudis fired the missiles themselves and passed bad “intel” to the US suggesting that the Yemeni rebels were to blame. After all, the Saudis are the ultimate beneficiary of US involvement in the Saudi-Yemen conflict. If this does turn out to be the case, it seems unlikely that the Pentagon will admit it as the alliance between the US and Saudi Arabia has been receiving a lot of bad press lately. Yet, with Iran sending warships to Yemen following the US’ involvement, it’s anyone’s guess how messy this latest intelligence faux pas could get.