The Pentagon doesn’t believe the Navy destroyer Mason and Israeli-linked commercial vessel Central Park were the targets of ballistic missiles fired Sunday by Iran-allied Houthi rebels in Yemen, an incident that came amidst continuing U.S. warship engagement with air drones and missiles in the Middle East in recent weeks.
U.S. Central Command originally said Sunday that Houthis fired two ballistic missiles “toward the general location” of the destroyer in the Gulf of Aden. The incident occurred as the ship and other allied assets of CENTCOM’s counter-piracy task force responded to a distress call that an “unknown entity” attacked the Central Park.
“Our current analysis is that we know that there was at least one missile fired,” Pentagon press secretary Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder told reporters Tuesday. “We’re continuing to look into that, whether it was one or two, but we know that there was at least one missile. And we also at this point assess that the vessels, the Mason and the Central Park, were not the intended targets.”
Ryder said the Pentagon is analyzing what the intended targets were, but referred reporters to the Houthis to clarify.
The encounter is one of several recent incidents where Navy destroyers have fended off missiles and drones the U.S. says originated from Yemen, and also coincides with recent attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria amid the Israel-Hamas war.
Ryder did not disclose specifics on whether the U.S. is planning to take any military action against the Houthis in response.
“When it comes to our forces, as I highlighted, we’re going to do whatever we need to do to ensure that they stay protected,” Ryder said. “I’m not going to telegraph or forecast or speculate on any potential strikes that we might take in the region, other than to say we will do what’s necessary to protect our forces.”
Ryder told reporters on Monday that five armed individuals from Somalia boarded the Central Park and attempted to take control of the ship and access the crew cabin. The crew of the commercial vessel locked themselves “into a safe haven,” he said.
The armed individuals fled the scene when the Mason arrived in response to the distress call, but a search and seizure team dispatched from the destroyer captured them. All five are currently detained aboard the Mason, Ryder said.
“Maritime domain security is essential to regional stability,” Gen. Michael Erik Kurilla, CENTCOM commander, said in a statement Monday. “We will continue to work with allies and partners to ensure the safety and security of international shipping lanes.”
The Mason belongs to aircraft carrier Dwight D. Eisenhower’s carrier strike group, which got underway from Norfolk, Virginia, in October for a scheduled deployment. The carrier transited the Strait of Hormuz into the Arabian Gulf on Sunday to support freedom of navigation patrols and other missions in the region.