RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
And late last night, the Pentagon announced that a U.S. Navy warship operating in the Red Sea fired cruise missiles at Yemen. The targets were radar installations there. It was a response to missile attacks on U.S. warships on patrol in the Red Sea over the past week coming from Yemen. NPR's Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman is on the line now with more.
TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Good morning, Renee.
MONTAGNE: What are you hearing from the Pentagon about these missile attacks in both directions?
BOWMAN: Well, first of all, Renee, the Pentagon put out a statement late last night saying that Tomahawk missiles fired from their ship, the USS Nitze, hit three radar locations on Yemen's Red Sea coast. And they say the initial reports are that they were destroyed. They said they were in somewhat remote areas. There is no sense, they said, of any civilians being killed. But this was all done because these missiles - shore-based missiles had been fired at a particular U.S. ship, the USS Mason, over the past week.
On two occasions, missiles were fired from shore from these Houthi-controlled rebel areas. They said the Mason used its defensive measures. We're not sure exactly what system they use. But they said none of the missiles came close to the ship, and some of the them may just have fallen harmlessly into the water. So what the Pentagon is saying is that by taking out these (inaudible), it makes it much harder for the Houthi rebels to actually target any ships out in the Red Sea.
MONTAGNE: Right. So those radar installations, the idea is they belong to the Houthis. And that - they are denying, already, responsibility for this. Remind us though of how the Houthi fit into the war that's going on there in Yemen.
BOWMAN: Well, there's a civil war going on in Yemen right now. The Houthi rebels are aligned with the former president of the country, fighting the current president. And the U.S. is providing support to Saudi Arabia, who's fighting to keep the current president in power. The U.S. is providing air refueling capability, intelligence capability as well. And they've refueled as many as 5,000 bombing flights over Yemen.
And a concern here, Renee, is that there have been a lot of civilians killed here in this effort to support the Saudis, as many as 4,000 civilians killed. And there was one incident last week where 140 civilians were killed at a funeral. So this is the first time the U.S. has actually been involved militarily here.
MONTAGNE: Right. I mean, that's a key here, that the U.S. is actively supporting these Saudi airstrikes. It's not a passive sort of support. And this funeral has really kicked up a big controversy there, a lot of resistance. What is that doing to - what kind of problem is that for the U.S.?
BOWMAN: Well, it's a particular problem. I mean, you know, the U.S. is - first of all, said this is a limited self-defense strike. So I don't think they would say that they were involved in the civil war. But clearly, they're being dragged in. I think the U.S. would like to see some sort of a resolution here. But, of course, once you start striking rebel areas, it makes it hard for you to be an honest broker. But there's a growing concern though over the increasing civilian toll here. And there's a lot of concern in Congress about that in particular.
MONTAGNE: Tom, thanks very much. That's NPR's Pentagon correspondent, Tom Bowman. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.