US launches fourth day of strikes against Houthis in Yemen targeting missiles ready for launch

US military initiates new series of missile strikes on locations in Yemen under Houthi control

Maroosha Muzaffar
Thursday 18 January 2024 11:36 GMT
Satellite images show Houthi sites before and after US-led airstrikes

The US military carried out more strikes on Houthi targets in Yemen on Wednesday, the US Central Command said.

It marks the fourth time within a week that the United States targeted the Iran-backed rebel group.

The military said it “conducted strikes on 14 Iran-backed Houthi missiles that were loaded to be fired in Houthi-controlled areas in Yemen”.

“These missiles on launch rails presented an imminent threat to merchant vessels and US Navy ships in the region and could have been fired at any time prompting US forces to exercise their inherent right and obligation to defend themselves,” it added.

The missiles were “loaded to be fired in Houthi-controlled areas in Yemen” and posed an “imminent threat” to commercial vessels and US Navy ships, according to US Centcom.

The recent US strikes against the Houthis are part of a series of actions following significant joint strikes with the UK last week, backed by support from several other allies.

The Houthi-controlled Saba news agency reported that the US and the UK conducted the strikes overnight in the provinces of Hodeidah, Taiz, Dhamar, al-Bayda, and Saada. However, Centcom did not acknowledge any British involvement in the recent attacks.

These developments come against a backdrop of heightened tensions in the Middle East, with concerns that the Israel-Hamas conflict in Gaza could escalate further in the region.

Tensions in the Middle East have risen after Houthi rebels began attacking ships passing through the Red Sea in December. The Islamist group claims it began striking a narrow strip of sea between Yemen and East Africa, which is a key international trade route, in a bid to end Israel’s air and ground offensive against Hamas.

Hours earlier on Wednesday, the Houthis attacked a US-owned and operated vessel for the second time this week. According to the US Central Command, the rebel group utilised a one-way attack drone to target the M/V Genco Picardy in the Gulf of Aden.

The Central Command reported that no injuries occurred on the commercial vessel, and although the ship sustained some damage, it was able to proceed on its course.

The US and UK airstrikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen began on Friday last week when more than 60 targets in 25 locations were hit. On Saturday, the Pentagon said a Tomahawk missile fired from the Navy destroyer USS Carney hit a Houthi radar site.

The strikes come as the Pentagon announced on Tuesday that two US Navy SEALs were lost at sea in a mission targeting Iranian weapons deliveries to the Houthis.

US president Joe Biden called the strikes a “direct response” to an onslaught of attacks on Red Sea ships which “jeopardised trade, and threatened freedom of navigation”.

Rishi Sunak, the UK prime minister, said the action was “necessary and proportionate”.

US Central Command posted photos of Iranian weapons components seized on route to Houthi rebels in Yemen
US Central Command posted photos of Iranian weapons components seized on route to Houthi rebels in Yemen (X / US Central Command )

On Wednesday, Pentagon press secretary Maj Gen Pat Ryder said the US would continue to take military action to prevent further attacks by the Houthis.

“They are exploiting this situation to conduct attacks against ships and vessels from more than 50 countries around the world. And so we’re going to continue to work with our partners in the region to prevent those attacks or deter those attacks in the future.”

Meanwhile, the Biden administration has redesignated the Houthi rebels as “specially designated global terrorists”. However, the designation will be reconsidered if the Houthis cease their Red Sea attacks.

The group was first listed as terrorists under Donald Trump and delisted in 2021 by Anthony Blinken. He said in a statement on Wednesday: “This designation seeks to promote accountability for the group’s terrorist activities. If the Houthis cease their attacks in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, the United States will reevaluate this designation.”

Strikes on Houthi targets in Yemen were a 'last resort', Sunak insists

The rebel group’s spokesperson Mohammed Abdelsalam told Al Jazeera in the wake of fresh strikes by the US: “We will not give up targeting Israeli ships or ships heading towards ports in occupied Palestine … in support of the Palestinian people.”

“It is an open war, and they must endure the earth-shattering, powerful, and crushing strikes and responses, God willing,” Houthi official Ali al-Qahoum wrote on X/Twitter after the latest strikes, according to the outlet.

Mr Blinken told CNBC earlier this week that when Houthis started the attacks: “We pressed very hard for them to stop, but without escalation of any kind. This has been an attack on international commerce, international shipping, not an attack on Israel, not an attack on the United States. That’s why more than 40 countries came together to condemn what the Houthis were doing. It’s why other countries came together to say, if this continues, there are going to be consequences, not for purposes of escalating, but for purposes of getting them to stop”.

He continued: “We’ve not wanted to see escalation anywhere since October 7. We’re working every single day to prevent it, including in the Red Sea.”

But several other leaders from across the globe said that the Houthi attacks are a result of Israel’s aggression in Gaza.

Earlier this week, during the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Qatar’s prime minister, Sheikh Mohammed Bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, stated that military strikes will not effectively contain Houthi attacks on commercial shipping lanes in the Red Sea. Instead, he emphasised that ending the war in Gaza is essential to defusing tensions in the region.

“We need to address the central issue, which is Gaza in order to get everything else defused...if we are just focusing on the symptoms and not treating the real issues, (solutions) will be temporary,” he said.

Additional reporting with agencies

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