A US military MQ-9 drone was shot down in Yemen’s Dhamar governate, southeast of the Houthi-controlled capital Sanaa, two US officials told Reuters, the second such incident in recent months.
A Houthi military spokesman earlier said air defences brought down a US drone.
The officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the drone was shot down on Tuesday.
This is not the first time a US drone has been shot down in Yemen. In June, the US military said Houthi rebels shot down a US government-operated drone with assistance from Iran.
US forces launched drone and air strikes against Yemen’s al Qaeda branch, known as Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).
The group took advantage of a four-year-old war between the Houthi movement and President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi’s Saudi-backed government to strengthen its position in the impoverished country.
One official said it appeared the armed military drone, made by California-based General Atomics, was shot down by a surface-to-air missile operated by the Iran-aligned Houthi group.
“It appears to have been fired by the Houthis and enabled by Iran,” the official said, without providing details or specific evidence.
The official said while losing a drone was expensive it was not unprecedented and was unlikely to lead to major response by the United States.
The other official cautioned it was too early to tell who was responsible for the incident.
In a statement, the US military said it was investigating reports a drone was attacked “in authorised airspace over Yemen.”
“We have been clear that Iran’s provocative actions and support to militants and proxies, like Iranian-backed Houthis, poses a serious threat to stability in the region and our partners,” the US military’s Central Command said.
The White House was aware of the reports and President Donald Trump was briefed.
“This attack is only possible because of Iran’s lethal aid to the Houthis and serves as another example of the regime’s relentless efforts to escalate conflict and threaten regional stability,” National Security Council spokesman Garrett Marquis said.
Iran rejects accusations by the United States and its Gulf Arab allies that Tehran is providing military and financial support to the Houthis and blames Riyadh for the deepening crisis.
Houthi military spokesman Yahya Saria said the drone was shot down.
“The rocket which hit it was developed locally and will be revealed soon at a press conference,” Saria said on Twitter.
“Our skies are no longer open to violations as they once were and the coming days will see surprises,” he added.
The drone shoot-down comes as tensions between Iran and the United States have risen since Trump’s administration last year quit an international deal to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions and ratcheted up sanctions. Iranian officials denounced the new penalties as “economic warfare.”
In June, Iran shot down a US Global Hawk drone, far larger than the MQ-9 drone that nearly led to retaliatory US strikes. Trump later said he called off the strikes because they could have killed 150 people.