Tuesday, April 16, 2024

U.S. and Allies Unleash Fierce Bombardment on Iran-Backed Houthis in Yemen

HomeWARU.S. and Allies Unleash Fierce Bombardment on Iran-Backed Houthis in Yemen

In a major retaliatory attack, the United States and Britain bombed more than a dozen sites in Yemen used by the Houthis, an Iran-backed militant group, on Thursday. The strikes involved a massive show of force, with warships, submarines and fighter jets launching dozens of missiles and bombs at Houthi targets.

President Biden said the goal was to show that the U.S. and allies “will not tolerate” the Houthis’ relentless attacks on commercial ships traveling through the Red Sea. He emphasized that the strikes were carefully considered and directly responded to the unprecedented missile and drone assaults on vessels that are vital for international trade.

“I will not hesitate to direct further measures to protect our people and the free flow of international commerce as necessary,” Biden vowed.

The U.S. military said over 60 Houthi targets were hit at 16 locations, striking key infrastructure like command centers, weapons depots, missile launch sites and air defense assets. Britain’s Prime Minister Rishi Sunak confirmed the Royal Air Force took part, hitting military facilities used by the rebels.

The coordinated mission demonstrated a strong, multinational effort to curb the Houthis’ threatening actions in one of the world’s busiest waterways. Allies from the Middle East to Europe and the Indo-Pacific joined the U.S. and U.K. in condemning the attacks that endangered lives and commerce.

Thursday’s operation was the first direct U.S. military response to the Houthis’ weeks-long barrage on commercial shipping. The militant group has launched missiles, suicide drone boats, mines and other weapons at vessels transiting the Red Sea and important chokepoints like the Bab el-Mandeb Strait.

The attacks have increased dramatically since late last year, even after a Nov. 9 warning from the U.S. and partner nations to stop or face consequences. Just since mid-November, the Houthis have carried out around 30 assaults on ships in Red Sea waters.

Biden administration officials had been reluctant to strike back, hoping to avoid escalating the conflict and further complicating Yemen’s civil war. But the president decided military retaliation was needed after Tuesday saw the largest Houthi attack to date, with a record number of 18 drones and missiles intercepted by Saudi and American forces.

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U.S. officials made clear that while they do not seek a wider war, they will act decisively to protect freedom of navigation and prevent disruption of global supply chains. International pressure is also mounting on Iran to stop enabling Houthi attacks through weapon supplies and training.

The Impacts on Yemen’s Brutal War and Global Commerce

Thursday’s retaliatory strikes could have major implications for both Yemen’s 8-year civil war and commercial transit through the Red Sea, one of the world’s most vital shipping lanes.

The Saudi-led coalition battling the Houthis hopes the U.S. and allies will continue strikes to degrade the rebels’ capabilities. But experts warn more violence risks exacerbating Yemen’s dire humanitarian crisis, already one of the worst globally. There are also concerns of retaliation by Iran’s proxies against oil infrastructure and tankers across the region.

For international shipping, traffic through high-risk areas like the Red Sea may need to be rerouted or curtailed. Some vessels have already changed course or halted sailings, and insurance rates are rising. This drives up costs for oil, natural gas, foods and other critical imports throughout Asia, Europe and beyond.

Military officials said they do not anticipate a major Houthi response so far. But the rebels have vowed fierce retaliation for any attacks on Yemeni soil. A senior Houthi official called the strikes “beyond the imagination and expectation” of the U.S. and allies.

In the past, the militants have been able to continue launching missiles and drones despite dozens of coalition airstrikes on their weapons sites. Replenishing their arsenal is enabled by Iran’s ongoing illicit arms transfers.

Thursday’s Operation Was Meticulously Planned and Executed

U.S. military leaders emphasized the carefully planned, measured nature of the retaliatory strikes on Houthi infrastructure. The goal was a proportional response to deter further shipping attacks while avoiding civilian casualties or acts that could trigger greater escalation.

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After the unprecedented Houthi missile and drone barrage on Tuesday, President Biden immediately gathered his national security team. They presented military options for responding, which Biden directed Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to carry out.

Despite being hospitalized, Austin oversaw the mission’s planning and execution. Four U.S. Navy warships – guided missile destroyers and Virginia class submarines – took up positions in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden. Each can launch dozens of Tomahawk cruise missiles with pinpoint accuracy from hundreds of miles away.

On Thursday, these American vessels unleashed a fierce Tomahawk bombardment on Houthi targets like air defense batteries, missile launch sites, command centers, storage bunkers and a key air base. At the same time, U.S. Air Force fighter jets struck additional sites.

Britain’s Royal Air Force flew long-range strikes using four Eurofighter Typhoon jets based in Cyprus. The Dutch, Canadian and Bahraini governments provided operational assistance for the mission as well.

In total, over 60 Houthi military assets were damaged or destroyed in Thursday’s lightning campaign. U.S. officials said the strikes will degrade the rebels’ offensive capabilities, especially missile and drone attacks on shipping. But given the Houthis’ past resilience, officials are prepared for retribution.

The Goal Was Protecting International Trade Routes

U.S. military officials underscored that the driving purpose behind Thursday’s strikes was protecting freedom of navigation through the Red Sea, Gulf of Aden and Bab el-Mandeb Strait. These waters along Yemen’s coastline are some of the most vital trade arteries linking Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

Up to 12% of all global trade passes through the Red Sea every year, including millions of barrels of oil and liquified natural gas along with bulk carrier cargo. Interfering with these routes endangers the fragile post-pandemic economic recovery and energy security for countries worldwide.

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The Houthis have claimed their attacks are justified retaliation for coalition military action in Yemen as well as Israeli strikes on Palestinians. But in reality, experts say the militants are seeking economic leverage and increased international recognition of their de facto rule in northern Yemen.

Intensifying assaults on commercial vessels – which have involved over 300 victims already – is aimed at extracting concessions while inflicting pain on Saudi Arabia next door. But the devastating impacts span across continents, harming the Houthis’ own people along with millions more worldwide.

That’s why the U.S. and allies are pushing back with shows of military force while keeping the door open to ceasefire talks. But real progress will require the Houthis recognizing that threatening civilian lives and global supply chains is an unacceptable way to make political gains.

Broader Efforts Underway to Secure the Red Sea

Beyond its own naval presence, the U.S. has assembled a multinational maritime coalition called Operation Prosperity Sentinel to better secure Red Sea shipping lanes. The combined patrols and escorts through dangerous hot spots aim to deter and interdict future Houthi assaults.

Prosperity Sentinel involves over a dozen countries deploying naval vessels, aircraft and surveillance under a unified command structure. Just in recent weeks, the Italian Navy and Pakistan Navy joined the mission alongside other allies like Canada, Germany, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia.

With one-third of the world’s containerized cargo traversing the Red Sea, ensuring free and safe passage through these waters is a global priority. U.S. officials say Prosperity Sentinel is key for stretching monitoring capabilities across this vast, strategic space using partners’ unique strengths.

But military deterrence alone cannot put an end to the attacks. That requires negotiating an elusive peace deal to end the devastating Yemen civil war that has raged for over eight years. Until then, the U.S. and allies have made clear they will take action to protect their interests and ensure global commerce continues unimpeded.

Mezhar Alee
Mezhar Alee
Mezhar Alee is a prolific author who provides commentary and analysis on business, finance, politics, sports, and current events on his website Opportuneist. With over a decade of experience in journalism and blogging, Mezhar aims to deliver well-researched insights and thought-provoking perspectives on important local and global issues in society.

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