US, UK Lead Retaliatory Strike Against Houthis in Yemen
US, UK Lead Retaliatory Strike Against Houthis in Yemen

By Naveen Athrappully

Multiple nations, led by the United States and the UK, carried out strikes against the Houthis in Yemen on Feb. 24 following the terrorist group’s continued attacks against naval and commercial vessels traveling through the Red Sea and surrounding waters.

The strikes were supported by Australia, Bahrain, Denmark, Canada, the Netherlands, and New Zealand.

“Today’s necessary and proportionate strikes specifically targeted 18 Houthi targets across 8 locations in Yemen,” the countries said in a Feb. 24 joint statement.

These targets are associated with Houthi underground weapons storage facilities, missile storage facilities, one-way attack unmanned aerial systems, and other military equipment, according to the statement.

The strikes aimed to “disrupt and degrade the capabilities that the Houthis use to threaten global trade, naval vessels, and the lives of innocent mariners in one of the world’s most critical waterways.”

On Feb. 22, a Houthi missile attack struck a British-owned vessel and injured a crewmember. On Feb. 19, another missile attack nearly struck a U.S.-owned ship delivering humanitarian aid to Yemen. A day earlier, there was an assault against a UK vessel, forcing the crew to abandon the ship.

To date, the Houthis have carried out more than 45 attacks on naval and commercial vessels since mid-November 2023, constituting “a threat to the global economy, as well as regional security and stability, and demand an international response.”

In the joint statement, the group of nations asserted that their goal was to de-escalate tensions and restore stability in the Red Sea but that they would not hesitate to retaliate to defend life and the free flow of commerce.

The Houthis denounced the joint attack, stating that the Yemeni Armed Forces will confront the “US–British escalation with more qualitative military operations against all hostile targets in the Red and Arabian Seas,” according to the AP.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanani accused the United States and the UK of seeking to “escalate tensions and crises in the region” while expanding the scope of the conflict, according to The Times of Israel.

In a statement about the attack, U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin affirmed that the United States “will not hesitate to take action” to protect commerce through one of the world’s most critical waterways.

“We will continue to make clear to the Houthis that they will bear the consequences if they do not stop their illegal attacks,” he said.

UK Defense Secretary Grant Shapp also stated his country’s stance on the matter: “It is our duty to protect lives at sea and preserve freedom of navigation.”

Action Against Houthis

Over the past month and a half, there have been 32 U.S. strikes in Yemen, a few of them conducted with allies. U.S. warships have taken out several missiles, drones, and rockets targeting naval or commercial vessels.

So far, U.S. operations against the Houthis have targeted more than 120 launchers; 40 storage and support buildings; 20 unmanned air, surface, and underwater vehicles; more than 10 surface-to-air-missiles; and multiple underground storage facilities, according to the AP.

During a press briefing on Feb. 22, Pentagon spokesperson Sabrina Singh said the Houthis had increased their attacks over the previous two to three days. She also acknowledged that the Houthis have not been deterred while pointing to Iran’s backing of the group.

“We never said we’ve wiped off the map all of their capabilities. … We know that the Houthis maintain a large arsenal,“ Ms. Singh said. ”They are very capable. They have sophisticated weapons, and that’s because they continue to get them from Iran.”

There are concerns that the continued U.S. strikes against the Houthis may end up becoming a proxy war with Iran. Last month, Pentagon spokesperson Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder said the Biden administration has no intention to push the conflict in this direction.

“We are not at war in the Middle East. … Clearly, there are significant tensions in the Middle East,” he said. “Our goal here is not to escalate or get into a conflict with the Houthis. Our goal is to prevent these continued attacks against the international community and international shipping transiting the Red Sea.”

In January 2021, the Trump administration designated the Houthis as a foreign terrorist organization (FTO). President Joe Biden reversed the designation shortly after.

However, last month, the Biden State Department designated the Houthis as specially designated global terrorists—a softer label than FTO—amid the current conflict. This resulted in an asset freeze aimed at cutting off financing for the Houthis.

The European Union is also strengthening its military presence in the Red Sea. It has begun a naval mission “to restore maritime security and freedom of navigation in a highly strategic maritime corridor,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said in a statement, according to Reuters.

“Within its defensive mandate, the operation will provide maritime situational awareness, accompany vessels, and protect them against possible multi-domain attacks at sea,” he said.

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