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US, UK forces shoot down largest Houthi missile and drone attacks in Red Sea, no damage reported

The US Central Command said 18 drones, two anti-ship cruise missiles and one anti-ship ballistic missile were shot down by the US and UK forces. The Houthis have vowed to continue attacks until Israel halts the conflict in Gaza, and threatened to attack US warships if the militia group was targeted.

Edited By: Aveek Banerjee @AveekABanerjee Dubai Published on: January 10, 2024 14:07 IST
Houthis have conducted 26 attacks on commercial vessels in
Image Source : AP/FILE Houthis have conducted 26 attacks on commercial vessels in the Red Sea.

In a major naval engagement, the Houthis launched at least 21 missiles and drones into the Southern Red Sea towards international shipping lanes, prompting the US and British navies to shoot down the projectiles, according to the US military's Central Command. No injuries or damage was reported in the 26th attack initiated by the Yemen-based group since November 19.

The US Central Command said 18 drones, two anti-ship cruise missiles and one anti-ship ballistic missile were shot down by the US and UK forces. 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.

The attacks came despite a planned UN Security Council vote last week to potentially condemn and demand an immediate halt to the attack by the rebels, who have stepped up their assaults in response to the Israel-Hamas war that has wreaked havoc in the besieged Gaza Strip, killing nearly 23,000 people.

The assault happened off the Yemeni port cities of Hodeida and Mokha, according to the private intelligence firm Ambrey. In the Hodeida incident, Ambrey said ships described over radio seeing missiles and drones, with US-allied warships in the area urging “vessels to proceed at maximum speed.”

The drones and missiles were downed by F-18s from the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, as well as by American Arleigh Burke-class destroyers the USS Gravely, the USS Laboon and the USS Mason, as well as the United Kingdom’s HMS Diamond. The Houthis, meanwhile, have not formally acknowledged launching the attacks.

Final warning to Houthis

Earlier this month, at least 12 countries including the US, Japan and Britain issued a "final warning" to the Houthis and warning them of unspecified "consequences" if they continued their attacks on ships in the strategic waterway. 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 attacks have targeted ships in the Red Sea, which links the Mideast and Asia to Europe via the Suez Canal, and its narrow Bab el-Mandeb Strait. That strait is only 29 kilometers (18 miles) wide at its narrowest point, limiting traffic to two channels for inbound and outbound shipments, according to the US Energy Information Administration.

These actions have disrupted international shipping, causing 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 amid that country’s war on Hamas. However, the links to the ships targeted in the rebel assaults have grown more tenuous as the attacks continue.

US military action

A US draft resolution before the U.N. Security Council, obtained on Tuesday, says the Houthi attacks are impeding global commerce “and undermine navigational rights and freedoms as well as regional peace and security.” 

The resolution would demand the immediate release of the first ship the Houthis attacked, the Galaxy Leader, a Japanese-operated cargo ship with links to an Israeli company that it seized in November along with its crew. An initial draft would have recognised the right of member states "to take appropriate measures to defend their merchant and naval vessels".

The final draft is weaker, eliminating any U.N. recognition of a country’s right to defend its ships. Instead, it would affirm that the navigational rights and freedoms of merchant and commercial vessels must be respected. A US-led coalition of nations has been patrolling the Red Sea to try and prevent the attacks. American troops in one incident sank Houthi vessels and killed 10 rebel fighters, though there’s been no broad retaliatory strike yet despite warnings from America.

The attacks have led to concerns over the possible expansion of the Israel-Hamas war as well as the end of an uneasy ceasefire in Yemen in case of a retaliatory US strike on the poorest country in the Arab world.

(with inputs from agencies)

ALSO READ | Houthis launch drone boat in Red Sea after US, allies issues 'final warning' against attacks

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