Two U.S. officials say the Navy has placed a destroyer off the coast of Yemen to protect shipping from fighters with the Iran-backed Houthi militia.
The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity on February 3, said the USS Cole had arrived near the Bab al-Mandab Strait to conduct patrols and escort vessels.
Houthi fighters this week attacked a Saudi warship off the Yemen coast, causing an explosion that killed two crewmembers.
The Houthi are fighting forces loyal to the Saudi-backed Hadi government in a conflict that has killed an estimated 10,000 people since September 2014.
"The Red Sea and … the Bab al-Mandeb is a vital waterway that the world relies on for the free flow of commerce," Pentagon spokesman Jeff Davis told reporters on February 2, without mentioning the deployment of the destroyer.
"We will ensure that maritime traffic continues to get through that critical strategic waterway," he said.
U.S.-Iranian tensions have mounted in recent days, with the U.S. administration putting Tehran "on notice" over a ballistic-missile test and its support for the Houthi militia.
With reporting by Reuters and Stars and Stripes