U.S. warships lobbed missiles at Houthi rebel positions in Yemen late Wednesday, marking the first time that American forces have been directly involved in the ongoing fighting there—one between the militants and the Saudi Arabian-backed government.
American government officials claimed that the attacks hit and destroyed three radar installations, according to NPR.
The strikes were launched in retaliation, after two missiles were launched from Yemen at a US destroyer in four days. Houthi forces, via state media organs they control, denied responsibility for the attack.
That incident itself came just days after a Saudi airstrike targeting a funeral on Saturday killed 140 people and left hundreds wounded.
US involvement in the war had been controversial even before Wednesday. Saudi airstrikes have killed the majority of the 4,000-plus Yemeni civilians killed since the monarchy’s mission started, in March 2015.
“I have tried numerous times to work with the Administration to stop the United States from assisting Saudi Arabia in their indiscriminate killing of civilians in Yemen,” Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) said in August. He accused the Obama administration and the US of “aiding and abetting what appears to be war crimes.”
Last month, 27 US Senators voted to block $1.15 billion in arms sales to Saudi Arabia. Though the deal was not halted, the move represented a cracking of the bipartisan consensus on staunch support for the Saudi government.
As far back as October 2015, White House officials had worried about the prospect of playing accomplice to Saudi atrocities, telling Politico that they were afraid of “abetting war crimes in a bombing campaign that could ultimately strengthen Islamist militants.”
Last summer, the United Nations nearly added the Saudi government to a blacklist of those whose armed forces target children, citing the deaths of hundreds Yemeni children at the hands of Saudi warplanes since March 2015. The oil-rich Saudi government, however, threatened to cut off financing to UN programs and the decision was reversed.
Proponents of the Saudi’s campaign allege that the Houthi rebels have close ties to Iran, and that the military incursion is necessary after the insurgents overthrew the internationally-recognized government of Yemen.
The US has been offering Saudi Arabia direct intelligence and logistics support for its campaign in Yemen since March 2015.