Houthis shoot down U.S. MQ-9 Reaper off Yemeni coast

Ansar Allah, the Iran-backed militia in Yemen that is better known as the Houthis, shot down an unmanned U.S. MQ-9 Reaper in international waters off the coast of Yemen today, U.S. officials have confirmed. The Houthis have claimed credit for the attack on the Reaper and published a video it says showing the UAV being shot down.

“Yemeni air defenses shot down an American MQ9 drone while it was carrying out hostile missions in support of the Israeli enemy entity on November 8, 2023,” the Houthis claimed.

It is unclear if the Reaper was shot down over the Red Sea or the Gulf of Aden. U.S. warships and aircraft patrol both bodies of water to ensure shipping in the vital Bab al-Mandab Strait is safe from piracy and other threats.

The Houthis, the only Iran-backed militia that possesses air defenses, ballistic missiles and cruise missiles, have shot down U.S. Reapers three other times in the past, twice in 2019 and once in 2017.

The Houthis have launched four attacks against Israel since Oct. 17 using drones, cruise missiles, and ballistic missiles. In one attack, a U.S. guided missile destroyer shot down several missiles and drones before they reached Israel. Israeli air defenses thwarted the other attacks. The Houthis have vowed to continue attacking Israel as it conducts operations to destroy Hamas and other terror groups in Gaza.

The Houthis are an Iranian ally which formed in the 1990s to oppose the Yemeni government. Over time, the IRGC co-opted the Houthi movement, and has provided the group with weapons, training and financial support. The Trump administration listed the Houthis as a Foreign Terror Organization in Jan. 2021, but President Biden revoked the designation just weeks after he entered office. However, Abdul Malik al-Houthi, the group’s overall leader, Abd al-Khaliq Badr al-Din al-Houthi, and Abdullah Yahya al-Hakim remain listed as Specially Designated Global Terrorists.

The Houthis control nearly all of northern Yemen, including the capital of Sana’a, possess advanced weapons such as ballistic and cruise missiles, and is estimated to have 100,000 fighters under arms. The official motto of the Houthis is: “God is great, death to the U.S., death to Israel, curse the Jews, and victory for Islam.”

Iran is leveraging its network of militias in Yemen, Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon to put pressure on Israel as well as the U.S. The Houthis, as well as the Iraqi and Syrian militias which number in the hundreds of thousands, can serve as a strategic reserve and a force multiplier as the war on Israel’s northern border heats up. These militias are battle-hardened by years of fighting the U.S. in Iraq as well as against Al Qaeda and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Joe Truzman is a research analyst at FDD's Long War Journal focused primarily on Palestinian militant groups and Hezbollah. Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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