US Syria Base Attacked as Destroyer Stops Missiles From Yemen

The US is seeing stepped-up drone attacks in Iraq and Syria, the Pentagon said Thursday, while an American destroyer in the Red Sea intercepted cruise missiles and drones fired toward Israel by Houthi rebels in Yemen.

(Bloomberg) — The US is seeing stepped-up drone attacks in Iraq and Syria, the Pentagon said Thursday, while an American destroyer in the Red Sea intercepted cruise missiles and drones fired toward Israel by Houthi rebels in Yemen.

The uptick in activity, which targeted US bases in Syria and Iraq, has resulted in minor injuries but prompted fresh concerns that Israel’s war with Hamas may spark a bigger conflict and pull in the US. The Pentagon is also sending more forces to the region, including fighter jets.

“You have to look at these individually — we’re taking them seriously and responding appropriately,” Brigadier General Pat Ryder, a Pentagon spokesman, told reporters Thursday. “Our focus is on deterring a broader regional conflict, and right now this conflict is contained between Israel and Hamas.”

The US base at Al Tanf, Syria, was targeted by two drones on Wednesday, Ryder said. The same day, US forces defended against two drones in western Iraq and a third in the country’s north. 

Separately, the destroyer USS Carney intercepted three cruise missiles and several drones launched by Houthi rebels in Yemen, Ryder said. He added that the missiles were headed north over the Red Sea  and in the direction of Israel — but the US was “still assessing” the target.

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“This action was a demonstration of the Integrated Air and Missile Defense architecture that we have built in the Middle East and that we are prepared to utilize whenever necessary,” Ryder said.

The Carney, a ballistic missile defense destroyer based in Rota, Spain, is equipped to intercept aerial targets, such as the three cruise missiles, or short-and mid-range ballistic missiles. In this instance, it fired Standard Missile-2s at the cruise missiles, according to a US official.

The mainstay naval air defense weapon is made by RTX Corp. It’s been updated over time “so even though the first SM-2 came out a long time” before the next version, “the SM-2s that were used could have been very modern and capable,” said Ronald O’Rourke, naval specialist for the Congressional Research Service.

Although the Carney “currently might not be in the best geographic location to help Israel counter any Iranian theater-range ballistic missiles” other ballistic missile defense-capable Navy Aegis destroyers in the Eastern Mediterranean “could be in a better location to do that,” he said. The Navy currently has a few there as part of the Gerald R Ford carrier strike group, O’Rourke added.

Although the Carney is too far away to assist Israel in defense against a ballistic missile attacks, its sister destroyers in the Eastern Mediterranean are ready to do that mission, he said.

Ryder said early warning systems at the Al Asad air base in Iraq sounded the alarm about a pending attack that never took place but prompted people to take shelter. A civilian contractor suffered a heart attack and died during the event, Ryder said.

“These small-scale attacks are concerning and dangerous,” Ryder said.

Read More: Israel’s Iron Dome Risks Getting Overstretched If War Widens

The US has been streaming more military gear and troops toward the region in the days since Hamas — designated a terrorist group by the US and the European Union — punched through Israeli defenses and killed some 1,200 people. Israel responded with air strikes that have killed more than double that number and is threatening a major ground invasion into the Gaza Strip.

US officials say the Pentagon’s moves — which have included dispatching two aircraft carrier groups, an amphibious assault group and fighter jets — are aimed at keeping Iran and Hezbollah fighters in Lebanon from joining the conflict. The US has also put 2,000 troops on alert for a possible deployment.

One concern is that Israel’s missile defenses could be overwhelmed by rocket attacks from Lebanon. The US is sending more interceptors for Israel’s Iron Dome rocket defense system, Ryder said. The carrier groups may have Aegis ballistic-missile defense capabilities that could also be called upon. 

(Updates after fifth paragraph with air defense details, including the Navy missile used. A previous version of this article corrected the spelling of Al Tanf.)

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