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Pentagon says it shot down Yemen missiles that may have been headed towards Israel

Pentagon Press Secretary Air Force Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder holds a press conference at the Pentagon on October 19, 2023 in Arlington, Va.
Kevin Dietsch
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Getty Images
Pentagon Press Secretary Air Force Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder holds a press conference at the Pentagon on October 19, 2023 in Arlington, Va.

The Pentagon said it shot down missiles fired from Yemen and potentially headed towards Israel. The report came just a day after U.S. troops were attacked in Iraq and Syria, stoking fears of a regional expansion of the conflict between Israel and Hamas.

The USS Carney, which is currently stationed in the Northern Red Sea, successfully intercepted three cruise missiles and several drones that had been launched by Houthi forces in Yemen, according to Air Force Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder, the Pentagon's press secretary. No one was injured in the incident.

Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Ryder said the Pentagon was still working to determine the weapons' intended target, but told reporters they were heading north and "potentially towards targets in Israel." Defense analysts and military officials believe the Houthis have medium-range ballistic missiles capable of reaching Israel, more than 1,300 miles away.

The Carney is equipped with various missile defense systems, though the Pentagon hasn't said which system was used to destroy the missiles.

The incident could represent the first shots taken by the U.S. military in defense of Israel since the country was attacked by the Palestinian militant group on Oct. 7.

With regional tensions continuing to rise, the U.S. has been on high alert for activity from Iranian proxy groups like the Houthis.Several armed groups aligned with Iran have vowed to target U.S. military basesin the Middle East if it intervened in an expected Israeli ground invasion of Gaza.

The Carney's defense actions came just a day after three separate drone attacks targeted U.S. air bases in Iraq and Syria.

Two of the attacks caused "minor injuries" to coalition forces, Ryder told the press on Thursday. During the third, at Al Assad air base in western Iraq, an American contractor had a cardiac episode and died.

Ryder characterized the incidents as a clear "uptick" in drone activity against the U.S., but said the Pentagon was still working to determine whether the incidents were connected to Iran-backed groups. It's unclear if the U.S. will retaliate.

"It's our aim to avoid any regional expansion of Israel's conflict with Hamas," Ryder said. "But we stand ready and prepared to defend our partners and our interests, and we will act to do so."

He added that the Pentagon did not take the series of attacks on U.S. bases as a reason to believe the Israel-Hamas conflict had grown to include additional Iran allies.

Iran has long provided support for Hamas in the form of training and ammunition, but the U.S. has said there's no clear evidence that Iran was directly involved in the Oct. 7 attack on Israel.

President Biden has repeatedly warned Iran and its regional allies not to escalate tensions by getting involved.

He's strengthened U.S. posture in the region by deploying several warships, aircraft carriers and marines to the area, but also made clear that he does not intend for the U.S. to become directly involved militarily.

NPR's Tom Bowman contributed reporting.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Emily Olson
Emily Olson is on a three-month assignment as a news writer and live blog editor, helping shape NPR's digital breaking news strategy.