US and UK strike Houthi sites in Yemen to protect maritime commerce

International forces launch air operations to counter shipping attacks as rebels announce new strike on US oil tanker

Paveway IV weapons are loaded onto a Royal Air Force Typhoon FGR4 in support of continuing operations against Houthi targets in Yemen. Reuters
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Forces from the US and the UK, supported by a coalition including Australia, Bahrain, Denmark, Canada, the Netherlands and New Zealand launched a series of precision air strikes on Saturday in a move to counter the threat to international shipping posed by Houthi rebels in Yemen.

The British Ministry of Defence (MoD) said four RAF Typhoon FGR4s, assisted by two Voyager tankers, targeted Houthi military facilities responsible for recent missile and drone attacks on commercial and coalition naval vessels in key maritime corridors.

The strikes were aimed at “Houthi military facilities in Yemen which had been conducting missile and drone attacks on commercial shipping and coalition naval forces in the Bab Al Mandeb, southern Red Sea, and Gulf of Aden”, the MoD said.

British Defence Secretary Grant Shapps said the military action was aimed at “further degrading Houthi drones and launchers used to mount their dangerous attacks”.

Al Masirah TV, the main television news outlet run by Yemen's Houthi movement, said on Saturday that US and UK forces carried out a total of nine air strikes in the capital, Sanaa.

The military action targeted 18 Houthi targets across eight locations, focusing on “underground weapons storage facilities, missile storage facilities, one-way attack unmanned aerial systems, air defence systems, radars, and a helicopter”, according to a joint statement.

“These strikes are intended to degrade Houthi capability and disrupt their continued reckless and unlawful attacks on international commercial and US and UK vessels,” the statement said.

“The goal of this multinational effort is to defend ourselves, our partners, and allies in the region and restore freedom of navigation by destroying Houthi capabilities used to threaten US and partner forces in the Red Sea and surrounding waterways.

“These strikes are separate and distinct from the multinational freedom of navigation actions performed under Operation Prosperity Guardian”.

Meanwhile, Yemen's Houthis targeted the MV Torm Thor, a US-flagged, owned and operated oil tanker, in the Gulf of Aden, the group's military spokesman Yahya Sarea said on Sunday, as the militants continued to attack shipping lanes in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza.

The group targeted the tanker with “a number of appropriate naval missiles,” Mr Sarea said in a televised speech.

The Houthis, who control the most populous parts of Yemen, have launched exploding drones and missiles at commercial vessels since November 19 as a protest against Israel's military operations in Gaza.

Apart from the joint operations with Britain, the US has also carried out repeated strikes against Houthi positions and weaponry in Yemen, claiming self-defence, and has downed air and seaborne drones in the Red Sea.

These efforts are part of a continuing campaign to dismantle the Houthi's capability to disrupt maritime traffic and pose a threat to regional security and the global economy.

The coalition's statement highlighted the gravity of the situation, saying: “The Houthis had staged more than 45 attacks on commercial and naval vessels since mid-November, which threatened the global economy, as well as regional security and stability.”

The operation on Saturday specifically targeted facilities where the Houthis have staged drones and missiles used in their maritime assaults.

In addressing the precision of the strikes, the MoD said: “Our aircraft used Paveway IV precision-guided bombs against the drones and their launchers, notwithstanding the Houthis' use of the old missile battery revetments to try to protect the drones.”

US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin echoed the coalition's commitment to regional stability.

He said: “The United States will not hesitate to take action, as needed, to defend lives and the free flow of commerce in one of the world's most critical waterways.

“We will continue to make clear to the Houthis that they will bear the consequences if they do not stop their illegal attacks, which harm Middle Eastern economies, cause environmental damage, and disrupt the delivery of humanitarian aid to Yemen and other countries.”

Updated: February 25, 2024, 6:11 PM