June 17 (UPI) -- U.S. Central Command confirmed that a MQ-9 unmanned aerial vehicle was shot down over Yemen at an altitude that suggested Iranian involvement.
A statement on Sunday said the U.S. drone, known as a Reaper, was shot down on June 6 by a SA-6 surface-to-air missile fired by Houthi rebels in Yemen.
"The altitude of the engagement indicated an improvement over previous Houthi capability, which we assess was enabled by Iranian assistance," the statement added.
A week later on June 13, another surface-to-air missile shot at a MQ-9 surveillance drone over the Gulf of Oman, but missed its target by about half-mile. The weapon used was "a modified Iranian SA-7" missile, CENTCOM said.
The June 13 drone arrived minutes earlier over the M/T Front Altair, a tanker ship on fire in the Gulf of Oman, after what U.S. officials called a mine attack on the ship by the Iranian Republican Guard Corps. It was one of two ships believed to be damaged by mines on that day. Iran has denied involvement in the incident.
Attacks on the drones can be regarded as additional evidence that Iran was involved in the attacks on the ships, U.S. officials say.
The decision to publicly blame Iran for the incidents increased the possibility that the United States will increase its troop size in the Middle East in what the White House calls a campaign of "maximum pressure" against Iran. Both ships, tankers owned by companies in Japan and Norway, were attacked in international waters and sustained explosions and fires that remain unexplained.