Within hours of USS Mason attack, the Navy fired Tomahawk missiles on Yemen
By TARA COPP | STARS AND STRIPES Published: October 13, 2016
WASHINGTON – Within hours of a cruise missile attack Wednesday on the USS Mason, the Pentagon had sent target options to the White House leading to that night’s counterstrike in Yemen, U.S. officials told Stars and Stripes.
The USS Nitze launched Tomahawk missiles against three radar sites in Houthi-controlled Yemeni territory that Pentagon officials believed played a role in launching multiple cruise missiles against the Mason, a Navy destroyer.
“[The radar sites] posed a threat to U.S. warships operating in the Red Sea. And we don’t take that very lightly. So we responded. And we responded by taking out radar installations that played -- were directly involved,” Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook said Thursday.
Cruise missiles were fired at the Mason and two other U.S. ships on Sunday and Wednesday operating near the coast of Yemen. At the time of the attacks, the Nitze and Mason, and their accompanying ships, were traveling through the Bab el Mandeb strait, which connects the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aden. The attacks could have been in retaliation for the United States’ support for a Saudi-led air campaign against the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen.
The Tomahawks fired from the Nitze hit three radar sites in Yemen about 9 p.m. Eastern Standard Time on Wednesday night. The three radar sites were located near Ras Isa, Yemen; North of Mukha, Yemen, and near Khoka, Yemen, a U.S. official said on the condition of anonymity.
The planning for the strikes had begun after the Sunday attack against the Mason, two U.S. officials said, and involved U.S. Central Command and U.S. Naval Forces Central Command. The planning intensified after the second attack on the Mason, which occurred about 11 a.m. Eastern Standard Time on Wednesday. By about 2:30 p.m., the Joint Chiefs of Staff requested retaliation options from the Navy and Central Command.
“How soon can we get a response going?” was the general tone of the communications, one of the officials said, noting the Joint Chiefs of Staff wanted to take action in “a couple of hours.”
By 7 p.m., the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Joseph A. Dunford and Secretary of Defense Ash Carter approved the options and sent them to the White House for approval, the two officials said. Not all of the recommended targets were approved, one official said, noting the White House wanted to limit strikes to targets that had a direct role in threatening the Mason and other ships.
At 9 p.m., the first Tomahawks launched.
On Thursday, Cook said the United States might launch retaliatory strikes again if there are further threats to the Mason or other ships. He did not confirm whether the United States believes the missiles were actually launched by the Houthis.
“If they try it again, it’s quite likely they’ll get a similar response,” Cook said.