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US carries out additional strike on Houthis as Biden promises to apply further pressure

This comes after the US and Britain launched a massive strike against the Houthis in retaliation for attacks in the Red Sea, hitting 60 targets and killing five people. Western countries had demanded Houthis to stop their attacks on commercial vessels in the Red Sea in the wake of the Gaza war.

Edited By: Aveek Banerjee @AveekABanerjee Washington Published on: January 13, 2024 11:04 IST
US, Houthis, Red Sea, Israel Hamas war
Image Source : REUTERS A missile launched from a warship during the US-led missions against Houthis.

The United States on early Saturday carried out another strike at a Houthi-controlled site in Yemen, after President Joe Biden promised further attacks on the Iran-backed group and keep the pressure on them to cease their attacks on international ships in the Red Sea. This comes after the US and Britain launched a massive retaliatory strike against Houthis that killed at least five people.

The latest strike targeted a Houthi radar site that presented a threat to maritime traffic, according to US officials. Biden had warned on Friday that the Houthis could face further strikes after the massive attack in coordination with the British military that struck over 60 targets in 28 locations.

Biden threatened to order more strikes if the Yemen-based rebels did not stop their attacks on merchant and military vessels in one of the world's most economically vital waterways. "We will make sure that we respond to the Houthis if they continue this outrageous behaviour," Biden told reporters during a stop in Pennsylvania.

Houthis vow fierce retaliation for US-led strikes

The US and the UK used warship and submarine-launched Tomahawk missiles and fighter jets, in response to attacks on commercial vessels in the Red Sea that have disrupted international shipping. The Pentagon said Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin ordered the military action from the hospital where he is recovering from complications following prostate cancer surgery.

The US Air Force's Mideast Command said it struck "command-and-control nodes, munitions depots, launching systems, production facilities and air defense radar systems.” In a separate statement, British PM Rishi Sunak said the Royal Air Force carried out targeted strikes against military facilities used by the Houthis. "This cannot stand," he said while noting the attacks on shipping, saying that the UK took "limited, necessary and proportionate action in self-defence" along with non-operational support from the Netherlands, Canada and Bahrain.

The Houthis' military spokesman Yahya Saree said 73 strikes hit five regions of Yemen under their control without elaborating on who was killed. “The American and British enemy bears full responsibility for its criminal aggression against our Yemeni people, and it will not go unanswered and unpunished,” Saree said.

A Houthi official confirmed "raids" in the capital Sanaa along with the cities of Saada and Dhamar as well as in the Hodeidah governorate, calling them "American-Zionist-British aggression". Witnesses told Reuters that the raids targeted a military base adjacent to Sanaa airport, a military site near Taiz airport, a Houthi naval base in Hodeidah and military sites in Hajjah governorate.

Hussein al-Ezzi, a Houthi official in their Foreign Ministry, also acknowledged a "massive aggressive attack by American and British ships, submarines and warplanes". "America and Britain will undoubtedly have to prepare to pay a heavy price and bear all the dire consequences of this blatant aggression," al-Ezzi wrote online. 

Mohammed Abdul-Salam, the Houthis' chief negotiator and spokesperson, separately described the US and Britain as having "committed foolishness with this treacherous aggression". Hundreds gathered for a rally in Saada on Friday, shouting the Houthi slogan: “God is the greatest; death to America; death to Israel; curse the Jews; victory to Islam.”

Risks of wider conflict in Middle East

The strikes marked the first US military response to what has been a persistent campaign of drone and missile attacks on commercial ships since the start of the Israel-Hamas war. This coordinated attack also comes a week after the US and its allies issued a "final warning" to the Houthis to cease the attacks on commercial ships or face possible military action. 

A senior US administration official anticipated "some sort of response" to the attack. Although Washington said there was no intent to escalate tensions, the Houthis have vowed to retaliate to any attack. The US-coordinated attack was criticised by the Russian Foreign Ministry, while China and Saudi Arabia called on all parties to avoid any form of escalation.

The Iran-backed Houthis, who control much of Yemen, have launched waves of exploding drones and missiles at commercial vessels in protest against Israel's operations in Gaza. The Houthis have vowed to continue attacks until Israel halts the conflict in Gaza and warned that it would attack US warships if the militia group itself was targeted.

Though the Biden administration and its allies have tried to calm tensions in the Middle East for weeks and prevent any wider conflict, the strikes threatened to ignite one. In Saada, the Houthis' stronghold in northwest Yemen, hundreds gathered for a rally Friday, denouncing the US and Israel. Another rally attracted thousands in Sanaa, the capital of Yemen.

Meanwhile, The White House said in November that it was considering redesignating the Houthis as a terrorist organization after they began their targeting of civilian vessels. The administration formally delisted the Houthis as a “foreign terrorist organization” and “specially designated global terrorists” in 2021, undoing a move by former President Donald Trump.

(with inputs from agencies)

ALSO READ | Five killed after US, UK militaries launch massive strike against Houthis in Yemen

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