US and UK strike Houthi targets in Yemen in response to Red Sea attacks

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, left, and US President Joe Biden speak at the opening of the North Atlantic Council (NAC) meeting during the NATO Summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, July 11, 2023.

Paul Ellis | AP

The United States and the United Kingdom have “successfully conducted strikes” against Houthi targets in Yemen, President Joe Biden said late Thursday.

“Today, under my guidance, US military forces – together with the United Kingdom and with the support of Australia, Bahrain, Canada and the Netherlands – successfully carried out strikes against a number of targets in Yemen used by the Houthi rebels to endanger the freedom of navigation in Yemen. one of the most vital waterways in the world,” Biden said.

The Iran-backed Houthi militia group launched drone and missile attacks on ships and cargo ships crossing the Red Sea late last year, prompting global condemnation.

The strikes on Houthi targets were “in response to the Houthi’s continued unlawful, dangerous and destabilizing attacks against shipping, including commercial vessels, transiting the Red Sea,” according to a joint statement by the governments of Australia, Bahrain, Canada, Denmark and Germany. , Netherlands, New Zealand, Republic of Korea, United Kingdom and United States.

Along with Greece, Singapore and Sri Lanka, the nations form a coalition, Operation Prosperity Guardian, launched in December to combat Houthi attacks.

But not everyone joined the strike: the United States and Great Britain were the only two armies to carry out the final strikes. A senior government official declined to comment on why the rest of the coalition did not participate.

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According to a senior administration official, the Houthis launched about 20 drones and multiple missiles directly at US ships in the Red Sea on January 9. It was the largest attack yet on merchant ships in the Red Sea, and Pentagon officials told CNBC at the time that four coalition warships were deployed in response.

“This attack was defeated by US and UK naval forces,” the senior administration official said on Thursday. “We have no doubt that ships would have been hit and perhaps even sunk, including, in one case, a merchant ship full of jet fuel.”

A Houthi military helicopter flies over the cargo ship Galaxy Leader in the Red Sea in this photo released on Nov. 20, 2023.

Houthi Military Means | Via Reuters

At least three ships were hit and there were “extremely close calls,” the official said.

“These reckless attacks have directly affected the citizens and trade and commercial interests of more than 50 countries.”

While the latest strikes on the Houthis were “significant” in size, the US did not expect to completely degrade the Houthis’ capabilities, the senior government official said. “We wouldn’t be surprised to see some kind of response.”

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The Houthis claim their attacks in the Red Sea are in response to the ongoing war in the Gaza Strip. Israel launched a large-scale bombing campaign in the Palestinian enclave following brutal attacks by Hamas militants on October 7.

More than 20,000 people in Gaza have since been killed, according to UN figures citing the Hamas-run Palestinian Ministry of Health.

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Since January, global shipping giants including Maersk, MSC, Hapag-Lloyd and CMA CGM have halted their shipping operations in the Red Sea. Oil major BP also announced it would “temporarily suspend” all Red Sea crossings.

“These targeted strikes are a clear signal that the United States and our partners will not tolerate attacks on our personnel or allow hostile actors to jeopardize freedom of navigation in one of the world’s most critical trade routes,” Biden said.

“I will not hesitate to direct further measures to protect our people and the free flow of international trade as necessary.”

— CNBC’s Christina Wilkie contributed to this report.

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