US Air Force Drone aircraft
FILE - US Air Force Drone aircraft.

Updated: Aug. 21, 2019, 1:44 p.m.

PENTAGON — A U.S. MQ-9 drone was shot down over Yemen by Houthi rebels late Tuesday, U.S. officials told VOA.

"It's the Houthis, but it's enabled by Iran," a U.S. official said, speaking to VOA on the condition of anonymity.

The military drone was hit while flying over Dhamar governate, southeast of the Houthi-controlled capital, Sanaa, according to another U.S. official.

U.S. Central Command, which oversees military operations in the Middle East, acknowledged it was "investigating reports of an attack" on a U.S. unmanned aircraft system in Yemen by Iranian-supported forces.

"We have been clear that Iran's provocative actions and support to militants and proxies, like the Iranian-backed Houthis, poses a serious threat to stability in the region and our partners," said Army Lt. Col. Earl Brown, a spokesman for Central Command.

The latest downing comes amid increased tensions between the United States and Iran. It also comes as Gen. Kenneth “Frank” McKenzie, commander of U.S Central Command, which overseas U.S. military operations in the Middle East, is in the region to build a coalition to secure maritime routes from Tehran.

FILE - U.S. Marine Corps General Kenneth F. McKenzie, Commander of the U.S. Central Command, poses for a picture during his visit to a military base in al-Kharj in central Saudi Arabia, July 18, 2019.

Bahrain, Australia, the United States and Britain have joined together in the “International Maritime Security Construct” to secure the region’s vital shipping lanes after Iran seized a British-flagged and Swedish-owned oil tanker, the Stena Impero, in the Gulf.

Stena Impero remains in Iranian detention.

The U.S. has also blamed Iran for attacking tankers in the Gulf of Oman in June and placing mines on four tankers off the coast of the United Arab Emirates in May, accusations Iran has denied.

Tuesday’s downing is not the first time Houthi rebels have shot down a U.S. drone in Yemen. A U.S.-operated MQ-9 drone was shot down by the Iranian-backed rebels in June, according to officials.

The MQ-9 Reaper is a remotely piloted, long-endurance aircraft used to strike dynamic targets. It can also be used to collect intelligence.

The U.S. military flies drones over Yemen to target al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and Islamic State militants.

There were 36 U.S. military airstrikes in Yemen in 2018 and nine strikes so far this year, according to the military. The last U.S. strike was June 24 in Yemen's Al Bayda region.

In January, a U.S. airstrike in Yemen's Marib governorate targeted Jamal al-Badawi, one of the alleged masterminds of the USS Cole bombing, which killed 17 sailors in 2000.

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