An MQ-9 Reaper drone is remotely piloted by airmen at Creech Air Force Base, Nev., on Aug. 30, 2023.

An MQ-9 Reaper drone is remotely piloted by airmen at Creech Air Force Base, Nev., on Aug. 30, 2023. (Victoria Nuzzi/U.S. Air Force)

Houthi rebels shot down an American intelligence-gathering drone off Yemen’s coast on Monday, a Pentagon spokeswoman confirmed.

U.S. military officials believe the MQ-9 Reaper drone was shot down by a Houthi surface-to-air missile before it crashed into the Red Sea, Sabrina Singh, a Pentagon spokeswoman, told reporters Tuesday. The drone had not yet been recovered, she said.

The shoot-down marked the second U.S. Reaper drone that the Iran-backed Houthi rebels have shot down in recent months amid escalating violence in the region, sparked in part by the group’s attacks on commercial shipping vessels in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden.

The Houthis claim their attacks as retaliation for Israel’s war in Gaza, which it began in the wake of the Oct. 7 attack on Israelis by Hamas militants.

The Houthis last shot down a U.S. military drone in November, another MQ-9, which crashed into the Red Sea, the Pentagon said at that time. The rebel group, which has controlled much of Yemen since 2014, had previously shot down Reapers in 2017 and 2019.

Reaper drones each cost about $30 million and are primarily flown by the Air Force to conduct intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance operations. They can be armed with up to eight Hellfire missiles, according to the Air Force. Singh said Tuesday that she was uncertain whether the drone shot down Monday was armed.

The spokeswoman said the Pentagon would continue to fly drones over Yemen to gather intelligence as it continues to conduct strikes on the Houthis in response to their attacks on ships.

A locator map shows Yemen and its capital, Sanaa.

A locator map shows Yemen and its capital, Sanaa. (AP)

Army Gen. Michael Erik Kurilla, who leads U.S. Central Command, “is using them to keep commercial mariners safe [and] to keep our U.S. service members safe in the Red Sea and in the Gulf of Aden,” she said. “Of course, there’s a certain amount of risk incurred, but it’s something that we’re going to continue to do to ensure that freedom of navigation can continue to be upheld, that the rule of law can be upheld, and that commercial shipping can continue.”

The downing of the drone came as the Houthis continued their attacks Monday on shipping vessels. The group shot two anti-ship ballistic missiles at a Greek-flagged, U.S.-owned grain carrier on Monday, which sustained minor damage but completed its transit to Aden, Yemen, to deliver the grain after the attack, according to CENTCOM, which is responsible for U.S. military operations in the region.

The group attacked another commercial vessel later Monday with a one-way attack drone, causing minor damage and no injuries, CENTCOM said.

The U.S. military, meanwhile, continued to strike Houthi targets on Monday and Tuesday to stop some of the attacks. The U.S. military struck a Houthi surface-to-air missile launcher and a grounded one-way attack drone on Friday. U.S. ships and aircraft also destroyed 10 attack drones in the air late Friday and early Saturday and intercepted an anti-ship cruise missile launched at the USS Laboon guided-missile destroyer on Saturday, CENTCOM said.

Singh vowed the Pentagon would continue to attack the Houthi’s Iran-supplied weapons.

“Every single day that we initiate another dynamic strike we are taking another surface-to-air missile off the map for them,” she said. “We are [often] being able to stop them, but … sometimes attacks do get through. … We do have the battle damage assessments that we have been able to make an impact to some of their capabilities. It is steps. It is progress, and we’re going to keep holding them accountable until they stop.”

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Corey Dickstein covers the military in the U.S. southeast. He joined the Stars and Stripes staff in 2015 and covered the Pentagon for more than five years. He previously covered the military for the Savannah Morning News in Georgia. Dickstein holds a journalism degree from Georgia College & State University and has been recognized with several national and regional awards for his reporting and photography. He is based in Atlanta.

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