Dubai: The US Navy launched three strikes on areas controlled by Yemen’s Houthi rebels, the Pentagon said, after a navy ship was targeted by two failed missile attacks this week.

The attack hit radar sites involved in “recent missile launches threatening USS Mason and other vessels" operating in international waters in the Red Sea and the Bab al-Mandeb strait, Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said in a statement. The Houthis denied they were behind both attacks on the ships, according to a news agency under their control.

The attack marks the first direct US Navy involvement in a war seen as a proxy confrontation between rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran. The conflict has so far pitted Shiite rebels and their allies against a government backed by a Saudi-led military coalition. The US said this month it was reviewing its assistance to the coalition after an airstrike killed more than 140 people gathered at a funeral hall in the Yemeni capital, Sana’a.

Cook said the operation was authorized by President Barack Obama. “These limited self-defence strikes were conducted to protect our personnel, our ships, and our freedom of navigation in this important maritime passageway," he said. “The US will respond to any further threat to our ships and commercial traffic, as appropriate."

The initial assessments show the sites targeted in the strikes were destroyed, Cook said.

John Jenkins, executive director of the IISS Middle East think-tank, said the US would resist being drawn deeper into the conflict.

“I think that may be the intention of whoever fired the missiles," Jenkins said. “But the US will seek to do everything it can not to be drawn further into it. The attempted attacks show the importance of continued interdiction efforts, which are an international issue," he said. “I’m pretty sure the US—and other navies in the area—will be taking extra measures to ensure their defences are robust."

On Sunday, two missiles that the US said were fired from Houthi-controlled territories targeted the USS Mason but hit the water, causing no damage. Captain Jeff Davis, a defence department spokesman, told reporters in Washington on Wednesday that the ship came under attack for a second time. It deployed “defensive measures" at the first cruise missile, while the second “splashed and crashed," he said.

The US has conducted military operations in Yemen for years, launching drone attacks against al-Qaeda targets. It blamed the jihadist group for an attack in 2000 on the USS Cole, which killed 17 sailors. Bloomberg

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