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US launches sixth attack against Houthis, strikes three anti-ship missiles aimed towards Red Sea

The strikes were carried out by F/A-18 aircraft off the USS Dwight D Eisenhower carrier, said an official. Attacks by the Iran-allied Houthi militia on ships in the Red Sea since November have impacted trade between Asia and Europe and raised international alarm amid the escalating Israel-Hamas war.

Edited By: Aveek Banerjee @AveekABanerjee Washington Published on: January 20, 2024 14:43 IST
US, US attacks Houthis, Yemen, Red Sea
Image Source : REUTERS An aircraft takes off to join the US-led coalition against Yemen-based Houthis.

Red Sea crisis: The United States on Friday conducted their sixth wave of strikes against three Houthi anti-ship missiles that were aimed towards the southern Red Sea and were prepared to be launched as tensions in the region's sea lanes continue unabated, said the US Central Command. The Command said the missiles presented an "imminent threat" to merchant vessels and the US Navy ships in the region.

"On Jan 19 at approximately 6:45 pm (Sanaa time), US Central Command forces conducted strikes against three Houthi anti-ship missiles that were aimed into the Southern Red Sea and were prepared to launch. US forces identified the missiles in Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen and determined that they presented an imminent threat to merchant vessels and the US Navy ships in the region. US forces subsequently struck and destroyed the missiles in self-defence," said the military on X.

A US official said the strikes were carried out by F/A-18 aircraft off the USS Dwight D Eisenhower aircraft carrier. Al-Masirah, a Houthi-run satellite news channel, said on Friday that there were air raids in the western port city of Hodieda on Friday, targeting the al-Jabaana neighbourhood in the west of the city. The location of the US strikes could not be immediately confirmed.

How successful are US efforts in stopping Houthis?

Attacks by the Iran-allied Houthi militia on ships in and around the Red Sea since November last year have impacted the trade between Asia and Europe while also blowing an alarm to the major powers as war between Israel and Hamas escalates in Gaza.

The Houthis said that they are acting in solidarity with Palestinians and have threatened to target US ships in response to American and British strikes on the group's positions. According to security and military experts, US President Joe Biden’s strategy is a blend of limited military strikes and sanctions, which appears to be aimed at preventing a wider Middle East conflict even as Washington seeks to punish the Houthis.

Biden on Thursday acknowledged that the strikes had not halted attacks by the militants but said the US military response would continue. "Are they stopping the Houthis? No. Are they gonna continue? Yes," Biden told reporters aboard Air Force One.

The confrontation risks an expansion of the conflict beyond Hamas-governed Gaza, where the local health ministry says over 24,000 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.

Houthis relisted as terrorists in the US

The Houthis relisted the Houthi rebels on its list of specially designated global terrorists after the group attacked the US-owned ship Genco Picardy on Wednesday. US officials said the "Specially Designated Global Terrorist" (SDGT) designation, which entails harsh sanctions for the Iran-backed group, was aimed at cutting off funding and weapons the Houthis have used to attack or hijack ships in vital Red Sea shipping lanes.

The US has initiated a wave of attacks on the Houthi infrastructure, including a  massive attack targeting 60 targets in 28 locations last week. Despite sanctions and military attacks, the Houthi rebels have remained undeterred in their campaign to attack commercial and military ships. The relisting of Houthis as terrorists came as US President Joe Biden's administration issued "carve-outs" aimed at avoiding an impact on Yemen's population, which relies on food imports and humanitarian aid, and pledged to conduct outreach to groups including aid agencies before the designation comes into effect in 30 days.

It is important to note that the Houthis were added to two lists designating them as terrorists in 2020 during the administration of former President Donald Trump, a day before his term ended. The decision sparked concern from the UN, aid groups and American lawmakers who said the sanctions would disrupt the flow of food, fuel and other commodities to Yemen.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken revoked the designations days after taking office in 2021, citing concerns sanctions would disrupt flows of vital humanitarian goods to Yemen. On Wednesday, even though Houthis were relisted as an SDGT group, they were not listed as a "foreign terrorist organisation", which includes stricter prohibitions on providing material support to those on the list and would mean automatic travel bans.

Crisis in the Middle East

The Houthis' campaign has disrupted global commerce, stoked fears of inflation and deepened concern that fallout from the Israel-Hamas war could destabilize the Middle East. The US has also strongly warned Iran to cease providing weapons to the Houthis.

The Iran-aligned Houthi group has threatened to expand the range of targets of its attacks in the Red Sea - which it says are a response to Israel's bombardment of Gaza - to include US ships in response to American and British strikes on its sites in Yemen.

The 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.

(with inputs from Reuters, AP)

ALSO READ | US strikes Houthi anti-ship missiles targeting Red Sea as global trade disruptions continue

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