U.S. and U.K. launch airstrikes targeting Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen

February 4, 2024
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ABOARD USS EISENHOWER IN THE RED SEA — The United States and the United Kingdom launched airstrikes Saturday targeting Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen in response to the group’s continued attacks in the Red Sea, the countries confirmed in a joint statement.

The U.S. and U.K. struck 36 Houthi targets in 13 locations in Yemen using missiles launched from the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, they said in the statement.  

More than two dozen aircraft were also launched from the ship, a U.S. official said, some carrying 2,000-pound bombs, sidewinder air-to-air missiles and other precision-guided missiles.

It is not immediately clear if anyone was killed or wounded in the strikes.

The strikes Saturday “targeted sites associated with the Houthis’ deeply buried weapons storage facilities, missile systems and launchers, air defense systems, and radars,” the joint statement said.

The statement added that the “precision strikes” were meant to “disrupt and degrade the capabilities” the Houthis have used to attack ships in the Red Sea, threatening global trade and innocent sailors operating the ships.

The strikes “are in response to a series of illegal, dangerous, and destabilizing Houthi actions since previous coalition strikes on January 11 and 22, 2024, including the January 27 attack which struck and set ablaze the Marshall Islands-flagged oil tanker M/V Marlin Luanda,” the statement said.

The U.K. Ministry of Defense identified the locations and targets of three strikes in a statement released Saturday.

The first was at As Salif, due west of Sanaa on the Red Sea coast, the mnistry said. It targeted a ground control station inside a defensive position that was said to be used to control Houthi drones that are launched further inland and carry out attacks over the sea against international shipping vessels.

Another drone ground control station was the site of the second target at Al Munirah, near the first, according to the ministry.

A “significant number of targets” were also attacked at Bani, the ministry statement said. Buildings at this location had been confirmed as involved in Houthi drone and missile operations. The ministry added that “an initial group of facilities” at this site were struck by the Royal Air Force on Jan. 11.

Since the Oct. 7 Hamas terrorist attack in Israel, and Israel’s continued retaliatory assault on the Gaza Strip, Houthi forces operating in Yemen have repeatedly attacked commercial ships in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden using drones and missiles.

“This collective action sends a clear message to the Houthis that they will continue to bear further consequences if they do not end their illegal attacks on international shipping and naval vessels,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Saturday. “We will not hesitate to defend lives and the free flow of commerce in one of the world’s most critical waterways.”

U.K. Defense Secretary Grant Shapps said in statement that Saturday’s strike were “not an escalation.

“We have already successfully targeted launchers and storage sites involved in Houthi attacks, and I am confident that our latest strikes have further degraded the Houthis’ capabilities,” he said.

Mohammed Al-Bukhaiti, a member of the Houthis’ Ansarallah political bureau, said the group’s attacks “will continue until the aggression against Gaza stops.”

“We will meet escalation with escalation, and victory comes only from God,” he said.

The Saturday strikes were unrelated to those Friday, a senior administration official said. The Friday strikes targeted 85 sites in Iraq and Syria used by Iranian forces and the Iran-backed militants, which was the United States’ first retaliatory response to the killing of three American soldiers in Jordan last weekend, U.S. officials said.

“Our response began today. It will continue at times and places of our choosing,” President Joe Biden said in a statement Friday. “The United States does not seek conflict in the Middle East or anywhere else in the world. But let all those who might seek to do us harm know this: If you harm an American, we will respond.”

Biden’s administration has clearly said that the U.S. would respond militarily after the drone attack by Iran-backed militants at a remote U.S. base in Jordan killed three and wounded more than 40 others.

Iran has denied involvement in that drone attack, adding that it does not seek a war with the U.S., but vowed it will respond to any threats from the U.S.

Prior to any of the strikes carried out by the U.S., Austin said there would be a “multitier response.” Biden settled on a plan that would take days, possibly weeks, to carry out, officials told NBC News.

It’s an uptick in pressure from Washington in the Middle East in an effort to curb attacks from these Iran-backed militants and to prevent the spread of an all-out war across the region.

Even after the first day of strikes on Friday, Biden and Austin maintained that the U.S. has no interest in beginning a war with Iran or widening the already growing Middle Eastern conflict.

“We will continue to work to avoid a wider conflict in the region, but we will take all necessary actions to defend the United States, our interests and our people,” Austin told reporters at a Pentagon news conference Thursday.

He made similar remarks on Friday, adding that “the president and I will not tolerate attacks on American forces.”

In the joint statement released Saturday, the U.S. and U.K. address the “now more than 30 attacks on commercial vessels and naval vessels since mid-November” by the Houthis, adding that the attacks “constitute an international challenge.”

“We remain committed to protecting freedom of navigation and international commerce and holding the Houthis accountable for their illegal and unjustifiable attacks on commercial shipping and naval vessels,” the statement said. “Our aim remains to de-escalate tensions and restore stability in the Red Sea but let us reiterate our warning to Houthi leadership: we will not hesitate to continue to defend lives and the free flow of commerce in one of the world’s most critical waterways in the face of continued threats.”

Courtney Kube reported from the USS Eisenhower, Mosheh Gains from Washington and Rebecca Cohen from New York City.



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