Iran Fired Missile at US Drone Prior to Tanker Attacks: Defense Official

An oil tanker is on fire in the sea of Oman, Thursday, June 13, 2019. Two oil tankers near the strategic Strait of Hormuz were reportedly attacked on Thursday, an assault that left one ablaze and adrift as sailors were evacuated from both vessels and the U.S. Navy rushed to assist amid heightened tensions between Washington and Tehran. (AP Photo/ISNA)
An oil tanker is on fire in the sea of Oman, Thursday, June 13, 2019. Two oil tankers near the strategic Strait of Hormuz were reportedly attacked on Thursday, an assault that left one ablaze and adrift as sailors were evacuated from both vessels and the U.S. Navy rushed to assist amid heightened tensions between Washington and Tehran. (AP Photo/ISNA)

An Iranian small attack craft fired a surface to-air missile (SAM) at a U.S. MQ-9 Reaper drone this week, a senior defense official said on background Friday. The incident happened in the general area where explosions crippled two tankers in the Gulf of Oman Thursday, the official said.

The official also confirmed a report from CNN that a SAM allegedly fired by the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen shot down an MQ-9 over the Red Sea earlier this week.

The two alleged attacks against U.S. assets by Iran and an Iranian proxy group are the first against the U.S. military to be confirmed since the U.S. began building up forces in the region last month. The White House accelerated the dispatch of an aircraft carrier to the Gulf region in May, charging that Iran was planning an offensive against U.S. forces and interests in the region.

"There was an MQ-9 in the vicinity" overhead where the tankers Front Adair and Kokuka Courageous were proceeding in the Gulf Thursday, the official said. The SAM that missed the Reaper was fired from an Iranian patrol craft, the official added.

The earlier shootdown of and MQ-9, allegedly by Iran-backed Houthi rebels, would not be the first time the U.S. military has come into conflict with the group. The Houthis have been supplied with missiles and other arms by Iran in the years-long Yemeni civil war against the government of Yemen, which is backed by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

In October 2016, the Houthis fired missiles that fell short in an attempted attack against the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer Mason in the Red Sea. The Mason later fired Tomahawk cruise missiles at radar installations believed to have been used in the attempted attack on the warship, Pentagon officials said at the time.

On Friday, the Mason entered the Gulf of Oman to join the destroyer Bainbridge, which had picked up 21 crew members from the Kokuka Courageous on Thursday.

It was not immediately clear if the two missile attacks would lead to an escalation of the current crisis in the region.

"The United States has no interest in engaging in a new conflict in the Middle East," U.S. Central Command officials said in a statement Thursday following the explosions aboard the two tankers. "However, we will defend our interests."

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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