WASHINGTON — The US Navy is maintaining its presence in the Gulf of Aden, but has had no communication with an Iranian flotilla that may be carrying weapons to support Houthi rebels in Yemen.
The USS Theodore Roosevelt and its support vessels continue to "monitor" the nine Iranian ships, Col. Steven Warren, Pentagon spokesman, told reporters Thursday.
There has been no communication between the two sides since US forces began to track the Iranian ships. The Roosevelt is about 200 nautical miles from the Iranian ships, Warren said.
Warren could not confirm a recent statement by the Iranian Ministry of Defense that two warships have joined the flotilla, but he did acknowledge that there are armed vessels as part of the group — a change from Tuesday, when the Iranian flotilla was made up entirely of container ships.
And while not confirming that the US believes the Iranian ships are carrying weapons for the Houthi militias that are currently embroiled in a fight with Saudi-led forces, Warren would not rule out the possibility.
"Certainly there's a possibility," he said. "There are large container ships that are capable of carrying any number of items."
The naval operations are having no impact on US efforts to support Saudi-led operations in Yemen, Warren said, noting they are putting a tanker in the air daily in order to refuel allied jets. He said the Pentagon is not currently keeping track of the number of refueling operations that have occurred.
Saudi Arabia on Tuesday announced an end to the first phase of their airstrikes, which were focused on hitting Houthi targets of interest. on Tuesday. However, the Saudi-led forces are still operating in the region, with US forces likely to continue supporting coalition forces for the foreseeable future.
"We welcome the Saudi announcement of the completion of phase one of their operation," Warren said. "My understanding is they never announced a cessation of airstrikes. They announced a completion of phase one of the operation. In fairly good detail they laid out their goals and objectives for phase two, and we continue to support the Saudis and the coalition as they pursue their objectives."