The U.S. is bolstering its naval force operating off the Yemen coast and in the Bab El Mandeb straits connecting the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean. The Navy announced the AEGIS destroyer USS Cole has joined the task force cruising off the coast of Yemen to defend access and ships transiting the Bab el-Mandeb strait.
The main concern is that the Houthis will try to block the narrow maritime lane with mines. “We’ve seen evidence that the Houthis are laying mines in the waters outside at least one of their ports. We officially have great concern for the freedom of navigation there” Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, told Stars & Stripes.
Three U.S. warships are currently patrolling the area – the USS Makin Island, an amphibious assault ship that provided the floating launch base for a recent strike force that attacked an Al-Qaeda base, the USS Comstock, a dock landing ship is also deployed in the area. Further to the south, USS Cole is patrolling the straits.
Davis added that the United States was prepared to defend access to waters off the coast of Yemen where a Saudi frigate was attacked earlier this week. The Saudi government said the frigate was attacked by three suicide boats. The Saudis said they were able to destroy two of the boats, but the third hit the frigate, which led to the death of two of the ship’s crew members. Iranian-backed Houthi rebels who control Yemen’s west coast claim they hit the frigate with a missile.
The deployment of USS Cole is part of an increased presence there aimed at protecting shipping from the Houthis. Last October the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels attacked a logistical vessel from the UAE and two U.S. warships in the same area that they hit the Saudi frigate. In response, the U.S. military launched cruise missile strikes to knock out three coastal radars located in areas of Yemen controlled by Houthi forces.
In 2000, the USS Cole was attacked when al Qaeda bombers steered a boat full of explosives into the side of the American warship while it refueled in the Yemeni port of Aden, killing 17 U.S. sailors and wounding about three dozen others.