U.S. officials are at their wits end with the Biden administration over their mishandling of recent attacks in the Middle East.
During a weekend conflict, Houthi rebels in Yemen launched missiles and drones against three commercial vessels, prompting a U.S. Naval response. The USS Carney intervened, shooting down three unmanned aerial drones in defense.
In the aftermath of these attacks, Defense Department (DoD) spokespeople and top Biden officials, including national security adviser Jake Sullivan, have cautiously tip-toed around the incidents in their assessments. They did not confirm or deny if the USS Carney was the target of these drone strikes.
"If our ships see something is coming near them or toward them, they are going to assess it as a threat and shoot it down," said a DOD official. "You’d be hard-pressed to find another time" U.S. ships have been this challenged in the region.
The timid response by officials is a perceived attempt to de-escalate tensions in the volatile region, wherein they downplay an existing threat to U.S. naval forces.
"People are thinking this is an Israel thing, and because they are heavy-handed in Gaza no one is saying anything," another official said. "The world should be condemning this."
The recent attacks in the Red Sea have been linked to the broader conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, with Adm. Christopher Grady, vice chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, acknowledging the significance of these attacks on international shipping.
He highlighted the potential expansion of the Israel-Hamas conflict and the involvement of Iran-backed forces in the region.
In response to these threats, the U.S. has taken decisive action military against Iranian proxies in Iraq and Syria, targeting facilities used by militants. Recent U.S. military actions in Iraq included the elimination of militants preparing to launch a drone attack at a military base situated in the region.
U.S. Central Command has warned they will consider "all appropriate responses" to these attacks, holding Iran responsible for enabling the Houthi rebels. Sullivan referenced ongoing discussions about forming a maritime task force -- possibly involving ships from partner nations -- to ensure safe passage in the Red Sea.
However, former national security officials have argued the Biden administration needs to implement stronger measures to deter future attacks from Iran-backed groups targeting U.S. forces. Retired Vice Adm. John Miller echoed the sentiment.
"We are not taking this seriously," he said, adding that the attacks "have gone largely unanswered. We’re not deterring anybody right now."