WASHINGTON: The Pentagon was preparing for possible new strikes in Yemen on Thursday after US missiles hit Huthi targets, but officials stressed America wants to avoid getting embroiled in yet another war.
The US Navy earlier launched five Tomahawk cruise missiles at three mobile radar sites in Huthi-controlled territory on Yemen’s Red Sea coast, after the Iran-backed rebels blasted rockets at the USS Mason destroyer twice in four days.
The military insists these moves are taken out of self-defense.
Though the United States is providing logistical support to a Saudi-led coalition battling the Huthis, Thursday’s bombing marked the first time Washington has taken direct action against the Huthis.
Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said this was not a prelude to a new campaign in the region, where America is to varying degrees waging wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria.
“We don’t seek a wider role in the conflict,” Cook said. “This is about protecting our people, period.”
The White House also stressed the United States was not stepping up its military role.
“This is not any engagement in the sectarian situation on the ground in Yemen,” White House spokesman Eric Schultz said.
The Huthi missiles were believed to have been a type of C-802 anti-ship weapon with “explosively formed penetrator warheads,” a senior defense official told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The Huthis have denied conducting the attacks.
Republican Senator John McCain said the missiles “likely” came from the Iranian regime.
“Thanks to the successful strikes carried out in response by the USS Nitze,” which launched the cruise missiles, “the United States Navy has delivered a strong message,” he said in a statement.
But the US strikes did not take out Huthi missiles and, though the radar destruction makes it harder to aim the weapons, the official warned rebels could still use spotter boats or online ship-tracking websites to find new targets.
“They do need to knock it off. We will not hesitate” to launch new retaliatory attacks, the official said.
Cook said the United states was “prepared to respond further.”
“But we believe we’ve taken action that will reduce their ability to carry out these kinds of attacks,” he added.
Another defense official, also speaking on condition of anonymity, warned of a continued threat to US and merchant vessels.
“Have we perhaps neutralized (the missile threat) for the time being by taking out their eyes? That’s a possibility, but radar can be brought in pretty quickly. I don’t think anyone here thinks the threat is gone,” he said.