US denies Iranian proxy in Yemen shot down drone

U.S. Central Command said “all U.S. military assets have been accounted for,” contradicting a Houthi spokesman who claimed his group downed an AeroVironment RQ-20 Puma drone.

By Associated Press

Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels claimed they shot down a U.S.-made drone over the country’s northern border with Saudi Arabia. The U.S. military said later on Monday that no American aircraft had been lost.

A Houthi military spokesman, Brig. Gen. Yehia Sarie, said in a statement that their air defenses downed the drone on Sunday over the district of Harad in Yemen’s northern Hajjah province. He said it was an AeroVironment RQ-20 Puma drone.

Footage later aired by the Houthi’s Al-Masirah satellite TV channel showed fighters gathered around the hand-launched drone, which appeared to have bullet holes in it. The battery-powered drone had a camera, also apparently struck by a bullet.

Masking tape on its tail bore what appeared to be the palm-tree and crossed-swords logo of Saudi Arabia, Arabic written on the side read “God Bless You,” an inscription common on Saudi aircraft.

The Saudi military, which has been fighting the Houthis since 2015, is not known to operate this drone. A Saudi military spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

First used by U.S. special forces, other arms of the American military now use the unarmed drone for surveillance work.

Read  Iranian writer who spoke on Israeli TV sentenced to death

However, the U.S. military’s Central Command later said there were no indications that any U.S. aircraft has been lost, saying in an email to The Associated Press that “all U.S. military assets have been accounted for.”

The U.S. military has lost drones in Yemen before. Last year, the Houthis twice claimed to shoot down U.S. MQ-9 Reaper drones, which can be armed with missiles.

The U.S. military has accused Iran of giving the Houthis weapons capable of shooting down its drones. Iran has denied providing the Houthis arms, despite U.N. investigators saying Iranian armaments have reached the rebels. The U.S. has interdicted ships with Iranian arms it says were bound for Yemen.

For more than a decade, the U.S. has waged a drone war against al-Qaida in Yemen, trying to eliminate one of the most dangerous branches of the Islamic terror network.

The conflict in Yemen erupted in 2014 when the Houthis overran the capital, Sanaa and much of the country’s north. The Saudi-led coalition, with support from the U.S., intervened in March 2015 to prevent the rebels from overrunning the south and restore the internationally recognized government.

The war has killed over 112,000 people, including 12,600 civilians, according to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project.