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

The US struck over 60 targets in Yemen, including command-and-control nodes, munitions depots, launching systems, production facilities and air defense radar systems. British PM Rishi Sunak said they had non-operational support from the Netherlands, Canada and Bahrain.

Edited By: Aveek Banerjee @AveekABanerjee Washington Updated on: January 12, 2024 16:08 IST
US, retaliatory strike, Houthis, Yemen, Red Sea
Image Source : REUTERS A RAF Typhoon aircraft takes off to join the US-led coalition in attacks against Houthis

Washington: The United States and the United Kingdom launched a massive retaliatory strike against the Yemen-based Houthis, using 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. US President Joe Biden on Thursday said that these attacks are a "clear message" that America and its partners will not allow hostile actors to "imperil freedom of navigation".

The strikes killed at least five people and wounded six, the Houthis said, without elaborating on what was targeted. 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.

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.”

Russia condemns strikes

Meanwhile, Russia condemned the United States and Britain on Friday for military strikes on Yemen, which Moscow said amounted to an irresponsible adventure that risked sowing chaos across the entire Middle East.

"We strongly condemn these irresponsible actions by the United States and its allies... A large-scale military escalation in the Red Sea region could strike out the positive trends that have emerged recently in the Yemeni settlement process, as well as provoke a destabilisation of the situation throughout the Middle East," said Maria Zakharova, Russia's foreign ministry spokeswoman.



In a statement, Biden said, "These strikes are in direct response to unprecedented Houthi attacks against international maritime vessels in the Red Sea - including the use of anti-ship ballistic missiles for the first time in history... I will not hesitate to direct further measures to protect our people and the free flow of international commerce as necessary".

The militaries bombed over a dozen sites used by the Houthis in its retaliatory strikes. The US Air Force's Mideast Command said it struck over 60 targets located at 16 sites in Yemen, including "command-and-control nodes, munitions depots, launching systems, production facilities and air defense radar systems.” Biden asserted that the move was made after careful deliberation and several attempts at diplomatic negotiations.

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. Britain's Ministry of Defence said in a statement that "early indications are that the Houthis' ability to threaten merchant shipping has taken a blow". 

Collaboration with partners

US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin, who is currently hospitalised due to complications following prostate cancer surgery, said the strikes targeted Houthi drones, ballistic and cruise missiles, coastal radar and aerial surveillance. Two residents of Hodeida said they heard five strong explosions hitting the western port area of the city, which lies on the Red Sea and is the largest port city controlled by the Houthis. 

The governments of Australia, Bahrain, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Netherlands, New Zealand and South Korea joined the US and UK in issuing a statement saying that while the aim is to de-escalate tensions and restore stability in the Red Sea, the allies won’t hesitate to defend lives and protect commerce in the critical waterway.

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.

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. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia issued a statement after the attacks, calling for restraint and "avoiding escalation".

Negotiations over Houthi attacks

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.

Shortly after the warning, the Houthis on Tuesday launched 21 missiles and drones in the southern part of the Red Sea, prompting the US and British navies to shoot down the projectiles but no damage was reported, according to the US military's Central Command. The assault happened off the Yemeni port cities of Hodeida and Mokha, according to the private intelligence firm Ambrey. On Thursday, the Houthis fired an anti-ship ballistic missile into the Gulf of Aden, which was seen by a commercial ship but did not hit the ship.

The United Nations Security Council on Wednesday dopted a resolution condemning and demanding an immediate halt to Houthi-led attacks on commercial vessels in the strategic Red Sea. The resolution, sponsored by the US and Japan, was passed 11-0 with four abstentions by Russia, China, Algeria and Mozambique.

The resolution highlighted more than two dozen attacks on commercial ships by Yemen-based Houthi rebels that are impeding global commerce "and undermine navigational rights and freedoms as well as regional peace and security". It also called on the Houthis to release the Galaxy Leader, the Japanese-operated carrier linked to an Israeli businessman that was seized by the group on November 19..

A key provision of the resolution noted the right of UN member states "to defend their vessels from attack, including those that undermine navigational rights and freedoms", in accordance with international law. The provision amounted to an implicit endorsement of Operation Prosperity Guardian, a US-led multinational naval task force that has been defending commercial ships in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden from Houthi missile and drone attacks.

The situation in Red Sea

The Houthis have launched 27 attacks against commercial ships in strategic waterways. 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. 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.

Additionally, the attacks 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, but the links to the ships targeted in the rebel assaults have grown more tenuous as the attacks continue.

(with inputs from agencies)

ALSO READ | UN Security Council adopts resolution calling for immediate cessation of Houthi attacks in Red Sea


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