A Navy warship shot down missiles Thursday that were fired from Yemen in the direction of Israel in the latest in a series of escalations and attacks on U.S. forces in the region since the start of the bloody Israel-Hamas conflict.
"The crew of the guided missile destroyer USS Carney, operating in the northern Red Sea earlier today, shot down three land attack cruise missiles and several drones that were launched by Houthi forces in Yemen," Pentagon spokesman Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder told reporters Thursday.
Ryder said the Pentagon wasn't certain what the missiles and drones were targeting, but they were launched north along the Red Sea, potentially toward targets in Israel. The Carney shot down the missiles over water, but Ryder wouldn't offer more details about the downing of the drones.
U.S. bases in Iraq and Syria were also targeted by drones Wednesday, the Pentagon said. The news comes a day after U.S. Central Command announced that it destroyed drones in two different parts of the country Tuesday.
Ryder said that the garrison in Syria was targeted by two drones, and U.S. and coalition forces destroyed one "while the other drone impacted the base, resulting in minor injuries to coalition forces."
"Also the same morning, in Iraq, early warning systems indicated a possible threat approaching the air base at al Asad, and base personnel sheltered in place as a protective measure," he said.
There was no attack, but Ryder said a U.S. civilian contractor suffered a heart attack while sheltering and died shortly thereafter.
Meanwhile, the Pentagon provided no additional information about why the Carney shot down the trio of missiles and whether they posed a threat to the ship or potential targets elsewhere.
"The decision was made that it posed a potential threat based on its flight profile so the decision was made to take it down," Ryder said. When asked whether the threat was to Israel or the ship, he said that "this is something we're still assessing."
It was also unclear Thursday whether Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin authorized the intercepts, which were the most assertive action U.S. forces have taken in the region so far. Ryder declined to answer who authorized the Carney to take action.
As Israel's war against Hamas turns tensions in the region white hot, the U.S. has deployed an increasing amount of military hardware with the stated goal of deterring any other parties -- namely Hezbollah and Iran -- from entering the conflict.
The USS Gerald R. Ford aircraft carrier and the other five ships in its strike group were deployed to the region Oct. 8 -- a day after Hamas, the group that rules Gaza, launched a terrorist attack into Israel that targeted civilians and killed at least 1,200.
The Pentagon has since ordered the USS Eisenhower strike group, as well as two Navy ships carrying the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, fighter jets and A-10 Thunderbolt II aircraft, into the region.
The command-and-control ship USS Mount Whitney was also deployed to the region Wednesday, carrying the three-star admiral who is the Navy fleet commander in Europe.
Amid the buildup, defense and White House officials have also made clear that the U.S. military assets off the coast of Israel and in the nearby area are not conducting offensive operations against Hamas or the Gaza Strip.
Ryder claimed the presence has so far been successful in containing the conflict, despite the attacks in Syria and the missiles launched from Yemen.
"These small-scale attacks are clearly concerning and dangerous," he said. "We're going to do everything we can to ensure deterrence in the region, so that this does not become a broader regional conflict."
Meanwhile, the State Department announced that it was encouraging U.S. citizens to leave Lebanon -- a country that has seen a spike in protests and violence over the last several days.
The Associated Press reported that the recent bombing of a Gaza hospital, which has further inflamed tensions in the area, has led to protests and clashes with security forces near the U.S. Embassy there.