Another MQ-9 Reaper drone goes down in Yemen

by Vern Evans

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Another U.S. MQ-9 Reaper drone went down in Yemen, images online purported to show Wednesday, as Yemen’s Houthi rebels continued attacks on shipping around the Red Sea over the Israel-Hamas war.

It wasn’t immediately clear what brought down the drone, but the U.S. military’s Central Command acknowledged seeing “reports” of the aircraft being downed in a desert region of Yemen’s central Marib province. It marked potentially the third such downing this month alone.

Images published online and analyzed by The Associated Press showed the MQ-9 on its belly in the barren desert, its tail assembly disconnected from the rest of its body. At least one hatch on the drone appeared to have been opened after it landed there, though the drone remained broadly intact without any clear blast damage. One image included Wednesday’s date. Noticeably, the drone did not appear to carry any markings on it.

Authorities in Marib, which remains held by allies of Yemen’s exiled government, did not immediately acknowledge the drone. Nor did the Houthis, who previously have shot down MQ-9 drones during the war.

A U.S. defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters, told the AP that “the U.S. Air Force has not lost any aircraft operating within U.S. Central Command’s area of responsibility.”

The official declined to elaborate.

Other American paramilitary forces have flown the drone in Yemen.

Located 75 miles east of Sanaa, Marib sits on the edge of the Arabian Peninsula’s Empty Quarter Desert at the foot of the Sarawat Mountains running along the Red Sea. The province has seen U.S. drones previously brought down there, in part because the region remains crucial for the outcome of Yemen’s yearslong war.

Since Yemen’s civil war started in 2014, when the Houthis seized most of the country’s north and its capital of Sanaa, the U.S. military has lost at least five drones to the rebels. This month alone, there’s been two others suspected shootdowns of Reapers that the American military hasn’t confirmed.

Reapers cost around $30 million apiece. They can fly at altitudes up to 50,000 feet (about 15,000 meters) and have an endurance of up to 24 hours before needing to land.

The Houthis in recent months have stepped up attacks on shipping in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, demanding that Israel end the war in Gaza, which has killed more than 36,000 Palestinians there. The war began after Hamas-led militants attacked Israel on Oct. 7, killing about 1,200 people and taking some 250 hostage.

The Houthis have launched more than 50 attacks on shipping, seized one vessel and sunk another since November, according to the U.S. Maritime Administration.

Shipping through the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden has declined because of the threat.

On Wednesday, Houthi military spokesman Brig. Gen. Yahya Saree acknowledged the rebels attacked the bulk carrier Laax on Tuesday. Saree also claimed a number of other attacks on vessels that have not reported assaults without offering any evidence to support his claim. Saree in the past has exaggerated Houthi attacks.

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