By Idrees Ali and Matt Spetalnick
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. Navy destroyer was targeted on Saturday in a failed missile attack from territory in Yemen controlled by Iran-aligned Houthi rebels, the third such incident in the past week, U.S. officials said.
Multiple surface-to-surface missiles were fired at the USS Mason sailing in international waters in the Red Sea but the warship used on-board countermeasures to defend itself and was not hit, one defense official said, citing initial information.
The latest attack could provoke further retaliation by the U.S. military, which launched cruise missiles on Thursday against three coastal radar sites in Houthi-controlled areas in Yemen in response to the two previous failed missile firings against the Mason.
"The Mason once again appears to have come under attack in the Red Sea, again from coastal defense cruise missiles fired from the coast of Yemen," Admiral John Richardson, U.S. chief of naval operations, said during a ship christening in Baltimore on Saturday.
Another U.S. defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters: “We are assessing the situation. All of our ships and crews are safe and unharmed.”
Thursday’s U.S. counter-strikes, authorized by President Barack Obama, marked Washington's first direct military action against suspected Houthi-controlled targets in Yemen's conflict and raised questions about the potential for further escalation.
The Houthi movement earlier this week denied responsibility for the missile attacks on the Mason and warned that it too would defend itself.
The Pentagon on Thursday stressed the limited nature of the strikes, aimed at radar that it suspected enabled the launch of at least three missiles against the Mason on Sunday and Wednesday.
Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said at the time that the U.S. counter-strikes were not connected to the broader civil war in Yemen, which has unleashed famine and killed more than 10,000 people since March 2015 in the Arab world's poorest country.
The United States, a longtime ally of Saudi Arabia, has provided aerial refueling of warplanes from a Saudi-led coalition striking Yemen and it supplies U.S. weapons to the kingdom.
Iran, which supports the Houthi group, said last week it had deployed two warships to the Gulf of Aden, to protect ship lanes from piracy.
(Reporting By Idrees Ali and Matt Spetalnick; editing by Diane Craft)