US strikes Houthi missiles in Yemen after drone attack on American ship

Marshall Islands-flagged and US-operated bulk carrier damaged by drone launched from Yemen

Houthis brandish their weapons and hold up portraits of leader Abdul Malik Al Houthi during a protest in Yemen on January 12. AFP
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US military forces late on Wednesday struck more than a dozen Houthi missiles that had been primed to fire on commercial and US naval shipping in the Red Sea, Central Command said.

The latest strikes on Houthi missiles came only hours after the Iran-backed Yemen group hit an American vessel in the Gulf of Aden.

Centcom said its forces hit 14 missiles that were loaded and ready to be fired from 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,” Centcom said on X.

It was the fourth such strike this month. Centcom head Gen Michael Erik Kurilla said: “We will continue to take actions to protect the lives of innocent mariners and we will always protect our people.”

Earlier, Centcom said a drone struck an American ship, the MV Genco Picardy, in the Gulf of Aden.

There were no injuries but some damage was reported, Centcom said.

The MV Genco Picardy is a US-owned and operated bulk carrier ship that sails under the Marshall Islands flag.

That Houthi attack followed days of US and UK strikes on military sites used by Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen.

There have been at least three days of strikes where the US hit anti-ship missile launchers and a radar station used by Houthis, including a wave of attacks alongside the UK military.

Pentagon press secretary Maj Gen Pat Ryder said the US-led international coalition defending against Houthi attacks in the Red Sea had “degraded” the group’s ability to conduct strikes.

But “we would not be surprised if we saw efforts on their part to continue to try to conduct retaliatory strikes”, he told reporters.

So far, US military action in Yemen has not deterred continuing attacks by the Houthis. American warplanes shot down cruise missiles launched at a warship this week.

“At the end of the day, the Houthis need to ask themselves: How much of their capability do they want degraded and disrupted in light of these illegal reckless and dangerous attacks?” Maj Gen Ryder said.

The group has said it would prevent ships travelling to Israel and its ports as a form of protest against the war on Gaza – but many of its targets have no connection to the country.

The move has disrupted global trade, with at least 15 per cent of maritime shipping passing through the Red Sea, and prompted the Pentagon to form an international coalition to secure the waterway.

The US on Wednesday designated the Houthis as a global terrorist organisation, partially reversing an earlier delisting by President Joe Biden's administration in 2021.

On Thursday, Houthi leader Abdulmalik Al Houthi said the US designation is a move towards "protecting the Zionist regime", adding that the US position against the Houthis "does not intimidate" the group.

Updated: January 18, 2024, 6:48 PM