US and UK military launch attacks against Houthi targets in Yemen amid fears of a wider conflict


Following repeated attacks using UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles), anti-ship and ballistic missiles and a manned multiple boat attack on commercial and US and UK naval shipping in the lower Red Sea, a combined US and UK air and missile strike was carried out on Thursday 11 January against selected Houthi sites in Yemen.

Assets used by the British and American forces included warship and submarine-launched Tomahawk cruise missiles and aircraft.

The UK Royal Air Force (RAF) used four Typhoon aircraft launching Paveway guided bombs on two of the selected Houthi sites. According to UK military statements, the RAF bombed a site in north-west Yemen used by the Houthis to launch reconnaissance and attacks drones.

The second target was an airfield said to be used for launching cruise missiles against shipping in the Red Sea.

US aircraft and missiles stuck a reported 60 targets at 16 sites in Yemen, including “command-and-control nodes, munitions depots, launching systems, production facilities and air defence radar systems.”

The attacks came after several urgent warnings were made to the Houthi movement to desist from launching further attacks on legitimate shipping crossing the Red Sea, which has become a threat to the economies of numerous countries and forcing ships to divert the long way around the Cape of Good Hope.

US President Joe Biden said that attempts had been made to seek diplomatic solutions. The US and its allies, he said, will not tolerate the ceaseless attacks on shipping in the Red Sea.

Military and political analysts suggest Thursday’s attacks on Houthi positions will make no immediate difference and that Houthis will continue harassing shipping crossing the Red Sea.

As a result they expect further action to be taken by the allied coalition forces that have agreed to defend the rights of commercial shipping to use the strategically and economically important waterway.

In a US Department of Defence report on 12 January it was indicated that the Department was highly confident that the previous day’s strikes were effective in degrading the rebel group’s ability to carry out further attacks against commercial ships operating in the Red Sea.

Lieutenant General Douglas A Sims II, US Army, director of operations for the Joint Staff, said joint forces from the US and UK launched more than 150 munitions from both maritime and air platforms against more than 16 locations controlled by the Iranian-backed militants.

“At this point, we continue to conduct battle damage assessment of the various targets We feel very confident about where our munitions struck,” Sims said.

Such targets were reported to have included command and control assets, munitions dumps, launch sites, production facilities and air defence radar systems used by the Houthis to carry out attacks against vessels operating in international waters.

Sims added: “We know precisely the capability that the Houthis have been employing against the Red Sea and the Bab al Mandeb. This was solely designed to get after the capability that is impeding international freedom of navigation in international waters. We feel pretty confident we did good work on that.”

The 11 January strikes launched against the rebel stronghold in Yemen were not associated with, and are separate from, Operation Prosperity Guardian, the Pentagon official said.

Diplomatic efforts

Defensive strikes followed sustained diplomatic efforts and broad international condemnation of the Houthi attacks that have threatened global commerce.

The previous week (ending 6 January) the coalition governments issued a joint statement condemning the attacks and warning the rebel group against further escalation.

In the statement, the nations warned that the Houthis “will bear the responsibility of the consequences should they continue to threaten lives, the global economy and free flow of commerce in the region’s critical waterways.”

Earlier, the UN Security Council adopted a resolution demanding that the rebel group cease all attacks against ships in the Red Sea.

Allied governments’ joint statement

In a statement following the Allies’ strikes, the governments of the US, Australia, Bahrain, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Netherlands, New Zealand, Republic of Korea and the UK issued a joint statement further condemning the Houthis’ actions and warning against further escalation.

The nations’ statement read that the strikes: “demonstrated a shared commitment to freedom of navigation, international commerce and defending the lives of mariners from illegal and unjustifiable attacks.

“Our aim remains to de-escalate tensions and restore stability in the Red Sea, but let our message be clear: We will not hesitate to defend lives and protect the free flow of commerce in one of the world’s most critical waterways in the face of continued threats.”

The US launched a further strike against Houthi militants on Friday 12 January, according to US Central Command, targeting a radar site. This was in response to the launch earlier in the day of an anti-ship missile fired at a ship in the Gulf of Aden that fell harmlessly into the water.

“This strike was conducted by the USS Carney (DDG 64) using Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles and was a follow-on action on a specific military target associated with strikes taken on January 12 designed to degrade the Houthi’s ability to attack maritime vessels, including commercial vessels,” Central Command said.

Friday’s missed missile attack is now considered the 28th Houthi attack on commercial shipping using drones and missiles since mid-November.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the New York Times reported two US officials saying only about 20 to 30 per cent of the Houthis’ offensive capability had been destroyed and the group retains much of its ability to fire missiles and drones at vessels.

There has been concern the strikes on Yemen are pushing towards an all-out war in the Middle East given the ongoing conflict in Gaza and heightened tensions in the region.

“The US has now put itself in a situation where more military action is all but assured if (or more likely when) the Houthis retaliate, resulting in a tit-for-tat cycle that could quickly get out of hand,” Daniel DePetris, a foreign affairs fellow at Defence Priorities, a Washington, DC-based think tank told USA Today.

Benjamin H Friedman, the policy director at Defence Priorities, told the publication: “The strikes on the Houthis will not work. That is, they are very unlikely to stop Houthi attacks on shipping.” He added that the “strikes’ probable failure will invite escalation to more violent means that may also fail.”

The Lebanese-based Hezbollah group on 14 January said US actions in the Red Sea would harm the security of all shipping as the area, which had now become a conflict zone, saying the Houthis of Yemen would keep up attacks despite US and British strikes.

Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said, “The more dangerous thing is what the Americans did in the Red Sea will harm the security of all maritime navigation, even the ships that are not going to Palestine, even the ships which are not Israeli, even the ships that have nothing to do with the matter, because the sea has become a theatre of fighting, missiles, drones and war ships.”

Hezbollah, the Houthis, and Iran-backed militias in Iraq have stepped up attacks since the Hamas attack on Israel in October, with Hezbollah firing at Israeli positions along the Lebanese-Israeli frontier, and Iraqi militias firing on US forces in Iraq and Syria, raising fears of a wider conflagration.

Hamas fighters killed 1 200 people and abducted another 240 after entering Israel on 7 October and in response, Israel has killed nearly 24 000 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip during its offensive.

Written by Africa Ports & Ships and defenceWeb.