Yemen's Houthi rebels fired a missile at a US warship, escalating the worst conflict in the Middle Sea in decades.

Houthi rebels in Yemen fired a missile at a US warship patrolling the Gulf of Aden, forcing it to shoot down the missile.

JERUSALEM – JERUSALEM (AP) — Yemen's Houthi rebels fired a missile Friday at a U.S. warship patrolling the Gulf of Aden, forcing it to shoot down the missile, the U.S. military said Friday.

This contradicts a statement by the US military's Central Command, which said the Houthis fired “in the direction” of Carney. As it has done in previous strikes, the Pentagon said it was difficult to determine exactly what target the Houthis were trying to strike.

Since the outbreak of war between Israel and Hamas, the United States has tried to soften its description of the strikes targeting its bases and warships in an attempt to prevent the conflict from turning into a broader regional war.

Brad Bowman, a senior director at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said recognizing Friday's attack as a direct attack on a US warship is important.

“Now they are calling a spade a spade, saying that, yes, they are trying to attack our forces, they are trying to kill us,” Bowman said.

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He said that softening the language, while intended to prevent a broader war, had the opposite effect of further empowering the Houthis.

Central Command said that in Friday's attack, an anti-ship ballistic missile approached the USS Carney, an Arleigh-Burke-class destroyer that has been involved in US operations to try to stop the Houthi campaign since November.

“The missile was successfully shot down by the warship USS Carney,” Central Command said. “No injuries or damage were reported.”

The attack is the latest attack by the rebels in their campaign against ships traveling through the Red Sea and surrounding waters, disrupting global trade amid Israel's war on Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

The Iranian-backed Houthi rebels did not immediately acknowledge the attack, although they usually take several hours afterward to claim their attacks.

The United States and Britain have launched multiple rounds of airstrikes in the time since targeting Houthi missile depots and launch sites in Yemen, a country torn by conflict since the rebels seized the capital, Sanaa, in 2014.

Since November, the rebels have repeatedly targeted ships in the Red Sea, saying they are retaliating for the Israeli offensive in Gaza against Hamas. But they have often targeted ships with weak or unclear links to Israel, endangering shipping on a key global trade route between Asia, the Middle East and Europe.

Since the air campaign began, the rebels now say they will target American and British ships as well. On Wednesday, two US-flagged ships carrying cargo for the US Departments of Defense and State were attacked by the Houthis, forcing an escorting US Navy warship to drop some projectiles.

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The US Navy commander in the Middle East told the Associated Press on Monday that the Houthi attacks were the worst since the so-called tanker war in the 1980s. Culminating in a day-long naval battle between Washington and Tehran, the US Navy also saw the US Navy mistakenly shoot down an Iranian airliner, killing 290 people, in 1988.

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Cobb reported from Washington.

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