US Navy task force set up in Gulf to tackle arms smuggling

It is the latest US military response to Houthi attacks on Gulf nations

The guided-missile destroyer 'USS Cole' in the Gulf of Oman. AP
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The US Navy is to set up a multinational task force to tackle arms smuggling in the waters around Yemen.

It is the latest US military response to Houthi attacks on Gulf nations.

The task force will ensure the navy has a presence to deter smugglers in the Red Sea, Bab Al Mandeb and Gulf of Aden, said Fifth Fleet Commander Vice Admiral Brad Cooper.

“These are strategically important waters that warrant our attention,” Vice Admiral Cooper said during a call with reporters. He added that the trafficking of people and drugs would also be a target.

The waters around Yemen are a key passageway for global trade, including oil supplies. Vessels have been attacked by the Houthis, as well as other forces.

More than a decade ago, increased naval patrols helped to curb pirate attacks on commercial vessels navigating nearby waters.

Vice Admiral Cooper said the task force would affect the Houthis' ability to obtain the weaponry needed for attacks, such as recent air raids from Yemen on US partners Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

“We'll be able to do it more vibrantly and more directly than we do today,” he said.

A US official told Reuters the waters between Somalia, Djibouti and Yemen were well-known “smuggling paths” for weapons destined for the Houthis.

“The new international task force will certainly go after this issue,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Iran has long been accused of smuggling weapons to the Houthis, a charge it denies.

The new naval task force would consist of between two and eight vessels and is part of the 34-nation Combined Maritime Forces, which Vice Admiral Cooper also commands, that has three other task forces in nearby waters to tackle smuggling and piracy.

The launch of the task force comes amid a two-month truce in the nearly seven-year Yemen war, which has killed tens of thousands of people and displaced millions.

Updated: April 14, 2022, 8:31 AM