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US, British forces carry out fresh attacks against Houthis targeting ships in Red Sea

Monday's attack marks the eighth time the US has carried out attacks against the Houthis and the second time the UK has participated in them. It was done with support from Australia, Bahrain, Canada and the Netherlands, targeting Houthi infrastructure in eight locations.

Aveek Banerjee Edited By: Aveek Banerjee @AveekABanerjee Washington Published on: January 23, 2024 6:45 IST
US and UK forces, Attacks on Houthis, Yemen, Red Sea crisis
Image Source : AP An aircraft launching from USS Dwight D Eisenhower on January 22.

Red Sea crisis: The US and British forces conducted a second joint attack against the Iran-aligned Houthis in Yemen, targeting a Houthi underground storage site along with missile and surveillance capabilities in eight locations, according to the Pentagon. This marks the eighth time the US has carried out attacks against the Houthis and the second time the UK has participated in them.

"US Central Command forces conducted air strikes against a Houthi anti-missile ship that was aimed into the Gulf of Aden and was prepared to launch. US forces determined the missile presented a threat to merchant vessels and US Navy ships in the region, and subsequently struck and destroyed the missile in self-defense," said Deputy Pentagon Press Secretary Sabrina Singh on Monday (local time).

"US Central Command forces alongside UK Armed Forces, and with the support from Australia, Bahrain, Canada, and the Netherlands, conducted strikes on 8 Houthi targets in Iranian-backed Houthi terrorist-controlled areas of Yemen," said the US Central Command. 

The targets included missile systems and launchers, air defense systems, radars, and deeply buried weapons storage facilities, which were used by the Yemen-based group to attack merchant vessels and US Navy ships in the Red Sea, Bab Al-Mandeb Strait and the Gulf of Aden. A senior US military official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said roughly 25 to 30 munitions were fired, including from warplanes launched from a US aircraft carrier.

The Houthi attacks have disrupted global shipping and stoked fears of global inflation. They have also deepened concern that fallout from the Israel-Hamas war could destabilize the Middle East. The Houthis, who control the most populous parts of Yemen, have said their attacks are in solidarity with Palestinians as Israel's operations in Gaza intensify.

British Defence Minister Grant Shapps said in a statement that the latest strikes were carried out in self-defense. "This action will deal another blow to their limited stockpiles and ability to threaten global trade," Shapps said.

So far, the eight rounds of strikes over the past month have failed to stop Houthi attacks against shipping. US President Joe Biden said last week that air strikes would continue even as he acknowledged they may not be halting the Houthi attacks. Experts say Biden's emerging strategy on Yemen aims to weaken the Houthi militants but stops well short of trying to defeat the group or directly address Iran.

The joint operation comes about 10 days after US and British warships and fighter jets struck more than 60 targets in 28 locations. That was the first US military response to what has been a persistent campaign of Houthi drone and missile attacks on commercial ships since the start of the Israel-Hamas war in October last year.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak also spoke with Biden earlier on Monday. Sunak’s office said the two leaders agreed to take "as needed, targeted military action to degrade Houthi capabilities". The US and its allies warned of retaliation for weeks, and the White House and a host of partner nations issued a final warning on January 3 to the Houthis to cease the attacks

US denies Houthis claim of attack on US military cargo ship

Meanwhile, the US military on Monday denied Houthi claims that it attacked an American cargo ship Ocean Jazz in the Gulf of Aden. "The Iranian-backed Houthi terrorists' report of an alleged successful attack on M/V Ocean Jazz is patently false," the US Naval Forces Central Command said in a statement.

The Houthi movement earlier in the day said its forces had launched a missile attack on Ocean Jazz in the Gulf of Aden. It did not say when or precisely where the attack took place or if any damage was caused. "The Yemeni armed forces continue to retaliate to any American or British aggression against our country by targeting all sources of threat in the Red and Arab Sea," Houthi military spokesperson Yahya Saree.

The confrontation risks an expansion of the conflict beyond Hamas-governed Gaza, where the local health ministry says over 25,000 people - or more than 1 per cent of Gaza's 2.3 million population - have been killed in Israel's assault. Iran backs Hamas, Lebanon-based group Hezbollah and the Houthi rebels in Yemen, and their involvement in the war has drawn strong condemnation from Western countries.

The Houthi-led attacks have caused some companies to suspend transits through the Red Sea and use the much longer and costlier journey through Africa. The Houthis say their attacks aim to end the pounding Israeli air-and-ground offensive targeting the Gaza Strip, but the links to the ships targeted in the rebel assaults have grown more tenuous as the attacks continue.

Iran 'directly involved' in Houthi attacks: US Navy official

The US Navy's top Middle East commander Vice Admiral Brad Cooper told the Associated Press that Iran is “very directly involved” in ship attacks by Houthis, stopping short of saying Tehran directed individual attacks in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. Cooper acknowledged that attacks associated with Iran have expanded from previously threatening just the Persian Gulf and its Strait of Hormuz into waters across the wider Middle East.

"Clearly, the Houthi actions, probably in terms of their attacks on merchant shipping, are the most significant that we’ve seen in two generations. The facts simply are that they’re attacking the international community; thus, the international response I think you’ve seen," said Cooper in an interview.

The Navy commander acknowledged the threat from Iran’s proxies and that its distribution of weapons extended from the Red Sea out to the far reaches of the Indian Ocean. "What I’ll say is Iran is clearly funding, they’re resourcing, they are supplying and they’re providing training. They’re obviously very directly involved. There’s no secret there," he said.

The Houthis are a Shiite rebel group that’s held Sanaa since 2014 and been at war with a Saudi-led coalition backing Yemen’s exiled government since 2015. However, the ships they’ve targeted increasingly have tenuous links to Israel — or none at all.

(with inputs from Reuters, AP)

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