US Navy sends destroyer to Yemen

This US Navy photo obtained February 3, 2017 shows the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Cole (DDG 67) as it flies the National Ensign and the 4th Marine Division (MARDIV) flag on January 16, 2017 (AFP Photo/Handout)

Washington (AFP) - The US Navy has sent a destroyer to waters off Yemen in response to an attack by Iran-backed Houthi rebels on a Saudi frigate, a defense official said Friday.

The USS Cole, which had been conducting operations in the Gulf, is now stationed in the Bab al-Mandab Strait off southwestern Yemen, the official said.

"They were moved down to the region in response to what happened to the Saudi frigate," the official told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Saudi officials say Yemeni rebel "suicide" boats recently attacked the Saudi warship that was on patrol in the Red Sea, killing two sailors.

The US Navy has not definitively said whether the attack was conducted by explosive-laden boats or a missile.

The USS Cole is well-known in naval circles as the target of an attack in October 2000 in the Yemeni port city of Aden that killed US military personnel. Al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for the bombing.

The vessel's deployment comes amid rising tensions in the region after President Donald Trump put Iran "on notice" and slapped fresh sanctions on Tehran following recent ballistic missile tests.

Two amphibious warfare ships, the USS Comstock and the USS Makin Island, are also deployed in the same area as the Cole.

The Makin Island was involved in Sunday's US commando raid on an Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula group compound in Yemen that led to the deaths of a Navy SEAL and multiple civilians.