US launches Operation Prosperity Guardian to counter Houthi attacks on ships in Red Sea

'This is an international challenge that demands collective action,' US defence chief says

The USS Carney crosses the Suez Canal. AFP / US Department of Defence
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The Pentagon announced on Monday the formation of a new international mission focused on countering attacks on commercial vessels in the Red Sea.

“The recent escalation in reckless Houthi attacks originating from Yemen threatens the free flow of commerce, endangers innocent mariners and violates international law,” US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a statement.

“This is an international challenge that demands collective action.”

Operation Prosperity Guardian is a multinational security initiative involving 10 countries including the US, the UK, Bahrain and Seychelles.

It will “jointly address security challenges in the southern Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, with the goal of ensuring freedom of navigation for all countries and bolstering regional security and prosperity”.

The announcement comes as a string of commercial vessels has been attacked by Houthi rebels in Yemen in recent weeks during the Israel-Gaza war. The Iran-backed Houthis are allied with Hamas.

Shortly after the outbreak of the war, the Houthis announced their intention to block Israeli ships from travelling across the Red Sea – although the attacks have mostly been launched against non-Israeli vessels.

“The Red Sea is a critical waterway that has been essential to freedom of navigation and a major commercial corridor that facilitates international trade,” said Mr Austin, who is in the Middle East meeting various allied nations.

About 10 per cent of annual global trade passes through the Red Sea.

The attacks, several of which have damaged vessels, have led some shipping companies to order their ships not to enter the Bab Al Mandeb until the security situation can be addressed.

Three US warships – the USS Carney, the USS Stethem and the USS Mason – have been moving through the Bab Al Mandeb daily to help deter and respond to attacks from the Houthis, AP reported.

Updated: December 19, 2023, 10:02 AM