US forces strike Houthi sites in Yemen as Biden says allied action hasn't yet stopped ship attacks

AP , Thursday 18 Jan 2024

U.S. forces on Thursday conducted a fifth strike against Iranian-backed Houthi rebel military sites in Yemen as President Joe Biden acknowledged that the American and British bombardment had yet to stop the militants' attacks on vessels in the Red Sea that have disrupted global shipping.

Britain s Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, left, and U.S. President Joe Biden
FILE PHOTO: Britain s Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, left, and U.S. President Joe Biden speak at the start of the meeting of the North Atlantic Council (NAC) during the NATO Summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, July 11, 2023. AP


The latest strikes destroyed two Houthi anti-ship missiles that “were aimed into the southern Red Sea and prepared to launch,” U.S. Central Command said in a statement posted to X, formerly known as Twitter. They were conducted by Navy F/A-18 fighter aircraft, the Pentagon said.

Biden said the U.S. would continue the strikes, even though so far they have not stopped the Houthis from continuing to harass commercial and military vessels.

“When you say working, are they stopping the Houthis, no. Are they going to continue, yes," Biden said in an exchange with reporters before departing the White House for a domestic policy speech in North Carolina.

Biden's comments followed another significant round of strikes Wednesday night, when the U.S. military fired another wave of ship- and submarine-launch missile strikes against 14 Houthi-controlled sites. The strikes were launched from the Red Sea and hit 14 missiles that the command also had deemed an imminent threat.

His administration also has put the Houthis back on its list of specially designated global terrorists. The sanctions that come with the formal designation are meant to sever violent extremist groups from their sources of financing, while also allowing vital humanitarian aid to continue flowing to impoverished Yemenis.

Despite sanctions and military strikes, including a large-scale operation carried out by U.S. and British warships and warplanes that hit more than 60 targets across Yemen, the Houthis keep harassing commercial and military ships. The U.S. has strongly warned Iran to cease providing weapons to the Houthis.

“We never said the Houthis would immediately stop,” the Pentagon's deputy press secretary, Sabrina Singh, said at a briefing, when asked why the strikes have not seemed to stop the Houthis. Since the joint U.S. and British operation got underway last Friday, hitting 28 locations and struck more than 60 targets in that initial round, the Houthis' attacks have been “lower scale,” Singh said.

For months, the Houthis have claimed attacks on ships in the Red Sea that they say are either linked to Israel or heading to Israeli ports. They say their attacks aim to end the Israeli air-and-ground offensive in the Gaza Strip. But the links to the ships targeted in the rebel assaults have grown more tenuous as the attacks continue.

The attacks have also raised questions as to whether the Israeli war on Gaza has already expanded into a wider regional war.

“We don't seek war, we don't think we are at war. We don't want to see a regional war,” Singh said.

The British military is warning of a potential new attack on shipping some 160 kilometers (100 miles) off the coast of Yemen in the Gulf of Aden. The United Kingdom Maritime Trade Organization, which provides warnings regarding shipping across the Mideast, did not immediately elaborate.

Separately, the U.S. and its allies have formed Operation Prosperity Guardian to protect ship traffic, and currently warships from the United States, France and the United Kingdom are patrolling the area.

“These strikes will continue for as long as they need to continue," National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said Thursday, adding, “I’m not going to telegraph punches one way or another.”

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