US officials: American Navy destroyer sent to patrol off Yemen amid Iran tensions

WASHINGTON, Feb 3 (Reuters) - The United States has sent a Navy destroyer to patrol off the coast of Yemen to protect waterways from Houthi militia aligned with Iran, two U.S. officials told Reuters on Friday, amid heightened tension between Washington and Tehran.

The USS Cole arrived in the vicinity of the Bab al-Mandab Strait off southwestern Yemen where it will carry out patrols, including escorting vessels, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

In 2000, the USS Cole was attacked when al Qaeda bombers steered a boat full of explosives into the side of the American warship while it refueled in the Yemini port of Aden, killing 17 U.S. sailors and wounding about three dozen others.

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An Air Force F-22 Raptor flies over the Arabian Sea to support Operation Inherent Resolve, January 27, 2016.

(Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Corey Hook)

Marine Corps Sgt. Josh Greathouse scans the area during a perimeter patrol in Taqaddum, Iraq, March 21, 2016. Greathouse is a team leader assigned to Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force Crisis Response, for US Central Command.

(Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Rick Hurtado)

Navy Seaman Fabian Soltero looks through shipboard binoculars aboard the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower in the Atlantic Ocean, March 25, 2016.

(Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Taylor L. Jackson)

USS Bulkeley receives fuel and cargo from dry cargo/ammunition ship USNS Medgar Evers during a replenishment at sea in the Persian Gulf, February 25, 2016. The guided-missile destroyer was supporting Operation Inherent Resolve, maritime security operations, and theater security cooperation efforts in the US 5th Fleet area of operations.

(Navy photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael J. Lieberknec)

Navy Seaman Brice Scraper, top, and Petty Officer 2nd Class Alex Miller verify the serial number of a training missile on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan in the Philippine Sea, October 5, 2016. The Reagan was supporting security and stability in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.

(Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Nathan Burke)

Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Brianna Caballero maneuvers a harbor patrol boat to load it onto a trailer for maintenance on Naval Support Activity Bahrain, January 6, 2016.

(Navy photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Gary Granger Jr.)

Soldiers offload equipment and supplies from a CH-47F Chinook helicopter after landing on Kahiltna Glacier in Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska, April 24, 2016. At 17,400 feet, Mount Foraker towers above.Air Force Maj. Steve Briones and 1st Lt. Andrew Kim fly a KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft over Turkey, January 6, 2016. Coalition forces fly daily missions to support Operation Inherent Resolve.Members of the visit, board, search, and seizure team for the guided-missile destroyer USS Gonzalez operate a rigid-hull inflatable boat in the Gulf of Aden, April 26, 2016. The Gonzalez was supporting Operation Inherent Resolve, maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in the US 5th Fleet area of operations.

(Army photo by John Pennell)

Air Force Maj. Steve Briones and 1st Lt. Andrew Kim fly a KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft over Turkey, January 6, 2016. Coalition forces fly daily missions to support Operation Inherent Resolve.Members of the visit, board, search, and seizure team for the guided-missile destroyer USS Gonzalez operate a rigid-hull inflatable boat in the Gulf of Aden, April 26, 2016. The Gonzalez was supporting Operation Inherent Resolve, maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in the US 5th Fleet area of operations.

(Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Corey Hook)

Members of the visit, board, search, and seizure team for the guided-missile destroyer USS Gonzalez operate a rigid-hull inflatable boat in the Gulf of Aden, April 26, 2016. The Gonzalez was supporting Operation Inherent Resolve, maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in the US 5th Fleet area of operations.Air Force Maj. Steve Briones and 1st Lt. Andrew Kim fly a KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft over Turkey, January 6, 2016. Coalition forces fly daily missions to support Operation Inherent Resolve.Soldiers offload equipment and supplies from a CH-47F Chinook helicopter after landing on Kahiltna Glacier in Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska, April 24, 2016. At 17,400 feet, Mount Foraker towers above.

(Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Pasquale Sena)

Sailors move a T-45C Goshawk aircraft on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower in the Atlantic Ocean, February 5, 2016. The Eisenhower was preparing for inspections and conducting carrier qualifications.

(Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Anderson W. Branch)

The guided-missile destroyer USS Carney breaks away from the fleet-replenishment oiler USNS Big Horn after a replenishment at sea in the Mediterranean Sea, August 14, 2016. The Carney was patrolling in the US 6th Fleet area of responsibility to support US national-security interests in Europe.

(Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Weston Jones)

A Marine Corps MV-22 Osprey aircraft prepares for takeoff from the flight deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Boxer in the Pacific Ocean, August 26, 2016.

(Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Michael T. Eckelbecker)

Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Kristen Neufeld performs maintenance on a Mark 38-25 mm machine gun aboard the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson at its home port in San Diego, August 18, 2016.

(Navy photo by Seaman Theo Shively)

Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Brian Evans repairs an antenna system during a replenishment at sea involving the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, the guided-missile cruiser USS Monterey, and the Military Sealift Command combat support ship USNS Arctic in the Persian Gulf, September 2, 2016.

(Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Nathan T. Beard)

Sailors aboard the guided-missile destroyer USS Ross move ropes during a sea-and-anchor detail near Aksav, Turkey, January 7, 2016. The Ross was conducting a routine patrol in the US 6th Fleet area of operations to support US national-security interests in Europe.

(Navy photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Justin Stumberg)

Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Trevor Ellam signals to the fleet-replenishment oiler USNS Laramie from aboard the guided-missile destroyer USS Stout during a replenishment at sea in the Persian Gulf, October 14, 2016. Ellam is a boatswain’s mate. The Stout was supporting security efforts in the US 5th Fleet area of operations.

(Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Bill Dodge)

Marines depart a CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter aboard the amphibious-assault ship USS Makin Island in the Pacific Ocean, October 22, 2016. The Makin Island was supporting the Navy’s maritime strategy in the US 3rd Fleet area of responsibility. The helicopter is assigned to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 163.

(Navy photo by Seaman Devin M. Langer)

Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Matthew Fulks motions to crew members on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis in the Philippine Sea, February 24, 2016. The Stennis provides a ready force to support security and stability in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.

(Navy photo by Seaman Cole C. Pielop)

The guided-missile destroyer USS Lassen patrols the eastern Pacific Ocean, March 10, 2016. The Lassen was supporting Operation Martillo with the US Coast Guard and partner nations within the US 4th Fleet area of responsibility.

(Navy photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Huey D. Younger Jr.)

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While U.S. military vessels have carried out routine operations in the region in the past, this movement, first reported by Reuters, is part of an increased presence there aimed at protecting shipping from the Houthis, the officials said.

The Houthis are allied to Iran, which is at odds with the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump. The country recently test launched a ballistic missile.

Trump said on Thursday "nothing is off the table" in dealing with Iran, a day after his national security adviser, Michael Flynn said he was putting Iran "on notice."

SEE ALSO: Iran brushes off Trump's 'empty threats' over missile tests

The officials said the decision to move the USS Cole was made before the most recent comments.

Earlier this week, the armed Houthi movement attacked a Saudi warship off the western coast of Yemen, causing an explosion that killed two crew members.

That incident was part of an escalation in combat on Yemen's western coast between the militia and the coalition backing the country's internationally recognized government.

Last October, the U.S. military launched cruise missile strikes to knock out three coastal radars located in areas of Yemen controlled by Houthi forces, retaliating after failed missile attacks on another U.S. destroyer, the USS Mason.

Tensions with Iran increased further on Friday when the U.S. Treasury Department announced sanctions on 13 people and 12 entities under U.S. Iran sanctions authority. (Reporting by Idrees Ali; Editing by Alistair Bell and Bernadette Baum)

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A ballistic missile is launched and tested in an undisclosed location, Iran, March 9, 2016.

(REUTERS/Mahmood Hosseini/TIMA)

A ballistic missile is launched and tested in an undisclosed location, Iran, March 9, 2016.

(REUTERS/Mahmood Hosseini/TIMA)

A ballistic missile is launched and tested in an undisclosed location, Iran, March 9, 2016.

(REUTERS/Mahmood Hosseini/TIMA)

A ballistic missile is launched and tested in an undisclosed location, Iran, March 9, 2016.

(REUTERS/Mahmood Hosseini/TIMA)

An undated handout picture shows the Iranian supersonic ballistic missile, Persian Gulf, during a war-game in an unknown location in Iran. The Arabic script reads, "Ya Aliyebn-Abitaleb", a religious title for Imam Ali, the first Imam of Shi'ite Muslims.

(REUTERS/Fars News/Handout)

An undated handout picture shows the Iranian supersonic ballistic missile, Persian Gulf, launching during a war-game in an unknown location in Iran.

(REUTERS/Fars News/Handout)

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