Commitment to US Red Sea naval task force grows

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At least 20 countries have, according to the United States (US) Department of Defense (DoD), signed on to be part of Operation Prosperity Guardian, the still to be deployed naval task force in the Red Sea.

The operation was made public in December by US Secretary of Defense, Lloyd Austin III, with nine countries named as participants. They are Bahrain, Canada, France, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Seychelles, Spain and the United Kingdom (UK).

A 31 December US DoD posting, in the wake of a briefing by USAF (US Air Force) Major General Pat Ryder, has it the operation will defend against Houthi drones (unmanned aerial vehicles) and missiles aimed at international shipping in the Red Sea. The post calls the Houthis “an Iranian proxy group” and it wants it to stop targeting international commerce.

Between 10 and 15% of global shipping flows through the Red Sea and “these attacks impact global trade and commerce, negatively impacting the economies of nations around the world and costing commercial shipping firms billions of dollars,” Ryder is quoted as saying.

Op Prosperity Guardian will be a multinational security operation under the umbrella of the US Combined Maritime Forces and the leadership of Task Force 153, which focuses on security in the Red Sea.

Without naming the new additions to the operation the USAF two-star is reported as saying: “In the days ahead, the US will continue to consult closely with our allies and partners who share the fundamental principle of freedom of navigation and we expect to see the coalition continue to grow,” he said.

The operation is a global answer to an international issue and the US will “work with this coalition of the willing where countries will be able to contribute what they feel that they can,” Ryder said. Contributions expected to be are military assets like ships and aircraft with other contributions including staff and other support.

Forces assigned to Prosperity Guardian will be “a highway patrol” in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden to respond and assist as necessary to commercial vessels transiting the “vital international waterway”.

“It’s a defensive coalition meant to reassure global shipping and mariners the international community is there to help with safe passage,” Ryder said.

The expansion of Op Prosperity Guardian, launched a month ago, comes after four small boats originating from Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen attacked the Maersk Hangzhou on Saturday with small arms and attempted to board the merchant vessel, according to a statement from US Central Command (CENTCOM), which added that a security team on board had returned fire.

CENTCOM said helicopters from the USS Eisenhower and Gravely responded to the Maersk Hangzhou’s distress call, the second in less than 24 hours, and were fired on by the Houthi boats.

“The US Navy helicopters returned fire in self-defense, sinking three of the four small boats, and killing the crews. The fourth boat fled the area,” the statement said, adding that there was “no damage to US personnel or equipment.”

The Houthis have launched dozens of attacks on commercial vessels since 7 October, in solidarity with Hamas amid the group’s war with Israel.