US considering 'appropriate action' in response to Houthi missile attacks in Red Sea

PHOTO: National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan speaks during a news briefing at the White House on December 4, 2023, in Washington. PlayAnna Moneymaker/Getty Images
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White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan on Monday said the U.S. is consulting with allies on "appropriate action" in response to the latest Houthi drone and missile attacks in the Red Sea.

"We have made clear that the entire world needs to step up together, not the U.S. alone, but all of us working together to deal with this emerging challenge that the Houthis present, backed by Iran. We're going to take appropriate action in consultation with others and we will do so at a time and place of our choosing."

Three commercial ships came under attack in the international waters of the Red Sea on Sunday, U.S. military officials said, as Houthi militants claimed responsibility for the latest incursion in the Middle East, where tensions have been high since the Israel-Hamas war began.

The USS Carney, a Navy destroyer that has been patrolling in the area, intercepted and shot down three drones while assisting the vessels on Sunday, CENTCOM said.

PHOTO: National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan speaks during a news briefing at the White House on December 4, 2023, in Washington. Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images
National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan speaks during a news briefing at the White House on December 4, 2023, in Washington.

"The Carney took action as a drone was headed in its direction, but again we can't say the Carney, at this time, was the intended target," Sabrina Singh, the Pentagon's deputy press secretary, said Monday although she added that the Pentagon was not ruling out the possibility.

At the White House, ABC Chief White House Correspondent Mary Bruce pressed Sullivan on U.S. retaliatory efforts not having been effective so far given how the Houthis continue to fire off missiles and drones at commercial shipping in the Red Sea, forcing U.S. ships in the area to respond.

He defended "steps" the administration has taken but acknowledged there continues to be what he called "very alarming behavior."

"We have taken a number of steps, including the movement of carriers, air wings and others to keep this war that is being waged now between Israel and Hamas in Gaza from spilling out into a broader conflict, a full-on regional conflict," he said. "That doesn't mean that we are not seeing very alarming behavior and there are two forms of it in particular, that we're focused on: one is attacks by Iranian-enabled and aligned Shia militia groups in Iraq and Syria, attacking our forces. We are taking steps to protect our people and to strike back against them."

PHOTO: The USS Carney sails in the Mediterranean Sea, Nov. 12, 2018. Specialist 1st Class Ryan U. Kledzik/U.S. Navy via AP
The USS Carney sails in the Mediterranean Sea, Nov. 12, 2018.

He continued to place blame for the Houthi attacks squarely on Iran, saying that country is supplying the Houthis with the weapons being used.

"We are talking about the Houthis here, they are the ones with their finger on the trigger but that gun, the weapons here are being supplied by Iran, and Iran, we believe, is the ultimate party responsible for this."

PHOTO: Yemenis trained by the Houthi movement hold their guns and chant slogans as they take part in a parade in Al-Sabeen Square, Dec. 2, 2023, in Sanaa, Yemen. Mohammed Hamoud/Getty Images
Yemenis trained by the Houthi movement hold their guns and chant slogans as they take part in a parade in Al-Sabeen Square, Dec. 2, 2023, in Sana'a, Yemen.

Sullivan also said the commercial ships that were targeted had ties to 14 different countries and showed the extent of a "source of global concern and a threat to international peace and stability." He added that the U.S. doesn't think all three ships had ties to Israel.

"It goes to show you the level of recklessness that the Houthis are operating on. Any ship they shoot at, whether its Israeli-owned or has some connection in the past to Israel, that doesn't make it any more of a justifiable target under international law than if the ship didn't have ties to Israel, but some of the ships we believe may not have."

ABC News' Matthew Seyler contributed to this report.