The Pentagon on Monday dispatched an aircraft carrier and a cruiser designed for unleashing guided missiles to the waters off the coast of Yemen, which has been stricken by Muslim-vs.-Muslim fighting in recent weeks that has left an estimated 150,000 people short of food.
Authorities said the U.S. was beefing up its presence – there already are a couple of destroyers, two mine-sweepers and several amphibious ships carrying 2,200 Marines in the region – but denied the intent is to intercept Iranian arms shipments.
Sent on the assignment was the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt and an escort cruiser, USS Normandy.
But Army Col. Steve Warren said in a Pentagon statement that the goal is not to intercept Iranian arms shipments.
Opposing factions of Muslims have been fighting in Yemen for weeks. The most recent reports, from Monday, said an explosion sent a plume of smoke thousands of feet into the sky from the capital of Sanaa.
The bombing campaign has been led by a coalition endorsed by the Saudis and has been targeting Yemen’s Shia Houthi rebels.
BBC News said the Houthis have been trying to capture the coastal city of Aden for several weeks, but troops loyal to the Yemeni president, who fled to Saudi Arabia, have been resisting.
Fox News reported that a convoy of about eight Iranian ships was headed toward Yemen and was thought to be carrying arms to the Houthis.
Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, didn’t address the movements, but he did confirm the U.S. has concerns about the continued support Iran is providing the Houthis.
“We have seen evidence that the Iranians are supplying weapons and other armed support to the Houthis in Yemen. That support will only contribute to greater violence in that country These are exactly the kind of destabilizing activities that we have in mind when we raise concerns about Iran’s destabilizing activities in the Middle East,” he said.
The Pentagon said the mission is “maritime security operations.”
“In recent days, the U.S. Navy has increased its presence in this area as a result of the current instability in Yemen,” the Pentagon said. “The purpose of these operations is to ensure the vital shipping lanes in the region remain open and safe. The United States remains committed to its regional partners and to maintaining security in the maritime environment.”
The U.S. Navy already is active in the region, combating piracy around Africa and as part of its work periodically boards ships, with permission.
Fox News reported the Navy has not had needed to board Iranian vessels.
AP reported that the move, however, was to “intercept any Iranian vessels carrying weapons to the Houthi rebels.
“The deployment comes after a U.N. Security Council resolution approved last week imposed an arms embargo on the Iranian-backed Shiite Houthi rebels,” the report said.
“The U.S. has been providing logistical and intelligence support to the Saudi coalition launching airstrikes against the Houthis. That air campaign is now in its fourth week, and the U.S. has also begun refueling coalition aircraft involved in the conflict.”