Iranian-Backed Rebels Bombed Ship With Explosive Drone Boats

Ryan Pickrell | China/Asia Pacific Reporter

Iran appears to be arming Houthi rebels with advanced weaponry as the conflict in Yemen rages on, and the most recent deployment looks to be explosive-laden drones, U.S. military officials revealed.

Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen bombed the al-Madinah, a Saudi frigate traversing the Mandeb Strait, in late January. The rebels claimed they hit the frigate with a ballistic missile; however, the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen reported the ship was attacked by three speedboats believed to be piloted by suicide bombers.

The U.S. military now believes the explosive-laden speedboat that smashed into the ship, killing two Saudi sailors and injuring three others, might have been a drone, reports Defense News.


“Our assessment is that it was an unmanned, remote-controlled boat of some kind,” Vice Admiral Kevin Donegan, U.S. Fifth Fleet commander and head of the U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, told reporters.

Assuming the boat was a drone, last month’s attack on the al-Madinah is the first confirmed use of this particular weapon by the rebels, and the drones appear to have been illegally supplied by Iran, Donegan explained. “I don’t know that it’s Iranian-built, but I believe that it’s production in some way was supported by Iran.”

“For certain, these things aren’t indigenous,” he added.


When the conflict in Yemen first started, the Houthi rebels had limited combat capabilities, but they have since demonstrated enhanced abilities, signaling that they are receiving outside help.Both the U.S. military and the United Nations have concluded, based on intercepted weapons shipments, that Iran is delivering weaponry to the rebels in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions.

The ballistic missile the rebels fired at Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia, was likely provided by Iran. The scud missiles that the Houthi rebels have in their arsenal have a range of about 124 miles. To hit Riyadh, a missile with a range of about 500 miles was required — since the rebels were able to get their hands on this kind of firepower suggests they are receiving outside assistance.

“My biggest concern now is that you’ve got nation-state weapons in the hands of non-nation states,” Donegan explained.

Terrorist groups have reportedly attempted to develop the type of drone technology used in the attack on the Saudi frigate, but they have been largely unsuccessful. Explosive drones mean that a suicide bomber is not required to carry out a suicide-like attack.

There is also a risk of the conflict drifting out to sea. Donegan stressed that he is worried that the rebels may intentionally or inadvertently strike a commerce vessel in the Red Sea, impacting regional trade and increasing instability.

Donegan said that the U.S. will continue to work to maintain peace and stability in this volatile region.

The U.S. supports the Saudi-led coalition which has been fighting against the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels attempting to overthrow the legitimate government of Yemen.

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