CAIRO (AP) — Yemen's Iran-backed Houthi rebels shot down a U.S.-made drone Friday along the border with Saudi Arabia, according to a statement by the group's spokesman.
The Shiite rebels, who overran Yemen's northern parts and the capital Sanaa in 2014, have been fighting a Saudi-led and U.S.-backed military coalition since 2015. In recent months, they have shot down at least two American drones.
Houthi spokesman Brig. Gen. Yehia Sarea tweeted that a spy aircraft known as ScanEagle was conducting "espionage and hostile operations" near the southern Saudi province of Asir when the rebels brought it down.
However, he did not provide any photographs or video footage to corroborate the claim.
The ScanEagle is a reconnaissance drone launched by a catapult that costs over $3 million and can fly for more than 20 hours, according the U.S. Air Force. The Saudi-led military coalition wasn't immediately known to operate this type of U.S.-made drone.
Cmdr. Zach Harrell, a spokesman for the U.S. military's Central Command, called the Houthi claim "false," without elaborating.
The U.S. military has lost drones in Yemen before. In August, the Houthis shot down a U.S. MQ-9 Reaper drone. Similarly, in June the U.S. said an MQ-9 Reaper was shot down by the Houthis. It said Iran helped the Yemeni rebels bring down the drone.
The shootdowns come as the U.S. has waged a long campaign of drone strikes in Yemen targeting suspected members of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, which Washington considers the most dangerous offshoot of the extremist group. Since 2002, the U.S. has launched over 280 drone strikes, killing over 1,000 suspected militants and over 100 civilians, according to figures from the Washington-based think tank New America.
Two al-Qaeda militants were killed Friday in a suspected U.S. drone strike in central Yemen, tribal officials said. The two men were hit as they rode in a vehicle in the province of Marib, accordin to tribal leaders who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.
The Saudi military offensive in Yemen began in 2015 on behalf of Yemen's internationally recognized government of President Mansour Abed Rabbo Hadi, who was forced out of Sanaa by the rebels and later fled to the Saudi capital, Riyadh.
The war in the Arab world's poorest country has killed more than 100,000, including thousands of civilians, according to a recent report by The Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, or ACLED, a non-governmental organization funded by the U.S. State Department and the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The conflict also resulted in the world's worst humanitarian crisis.
Associated Press writer Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates; and Ahmed al-Haj in Sanaa, contributed to this report.