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US general suspects Iran role in Houthi attacks on US ships

Gen. Joseph Votel, head of US forces in Mideast, places most explicit blame yet on Tehran for Yemen missile launches

US Central Command chief Gen. Joseph Votel speaks to reporters at the Pentagon, Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2016. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
US Central Command chief Gen. Joseph Votel speaks to reporters at the Pentagon, Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2016. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

WASHINGTON – Iran may have played a role in recent Houthi missile attacks against US warships in the Red Sea, a top US general said Wednesday.

Iranian-backed Houthi rebels are believed to be behind a series of incidents this month that saw surface-to-surface missiles fired at the USS Mason on at least two occasions.

In response, US cruise missiles on October 13 struck Houthi radar sites believed to have been used to target the weapons.

“I do think Iran is playing a role in some of this. They have a relationship with the Houtis, so I do suspect there is a role in there,” General Joseph Votel told a Washington think tank.

Votel heads the US military’s Central Command, which oversees operations across the Middle East.

His statement was the most forward-leaning so far of a US official in describing Iranian involvement in the missile attacks.

The Houthi missiles either fell short of their targets or were thwarted by US anti-missile defenses.

The Pentagon has described two attacks so far on the Mason or other US warships.

The USS Mason in the Atlantic on January  14, 2011. (US Navy/Anna Wade)
The USS Mason in the Atlantic on January 14, 2011. (US Navy/Anna Wade)

Officials are still analyzing a third possible attack on Saturday to see whether additional missiles were fired.

We “are trying to … understand this as much as we can, so we can properly attribute what is happening, and understand how these attacks are taking place,” Votel told the Center for American Progress.

“And more importantly, how the decisions are being made to launch these attacks, so we can take action against that.”

The Pentagon has not disclosed the type of missiles the Houthis used, but Votel noted that “some of the technology that we’ve seen there are things that are associated with” Iran.

But “it’s not totally exclusive to them. Certainly there are others that have shore-based missiles and may be moving that in there,” he added.

Yemen’s conflict has killed more than 6,800 people, wounded more than 35,000 and displaced at least three million since the coalition launched military operations, according to the United Nations.

The United States has supported a Saudi-led coalition that is bombing the Houthis.

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