The United States launched a new missile strike on Saturday in the Red Sea after Iran-backed Houthi militias fired drones and missiles at ships carrying commercial cargo. The strikes involved more than 100 precision-guided munitions, including air- and ship-launched Tomahawk cruise missiles.
The raids targeted a Houthi radar site and were “follow-on action to degrade their ability to attack maritime vessels,” Central Command said.
The US struck a Houthi radar facility in Yemen in the early morning hours of Jan. 13 as part of a “wide-ranging, targeted operation” to degrade the rebels’ ability to endanger maritime shipping in the Red Sea, according to Central Command. The destroyer USS Carney launched Tomahawk cruise missiles at the site, which was chosen because of its role in supporting ongoing attacks on commercial ships in the area. It was the second in a series of attacks that began Thursday night, with more than 60 targets hit across 16 locations with about 100 precision-guided munitions.
The targets include radar systems, as well as storage and launch sites for drones, cruise and ballistic missiles, the commander said. No civilians were assessed to be present at the sites, and there is no indication that any were hit, he added. A second wave of strikes hit dozens more sites about 30 to 60 minutes later, he said. Those sites were chosen to further degrade the rebels’ ability to threaten maritime traffic in the region, and no civilians were believed to be involved.
As a result of the strikes, several tankers have diverted to other routes in the area, according to shipping data from LSEG and Kpler. The US and British military have been trying to deter commercial vessels from sailing through the Red Sea for weeks, after the rebels attacked multiple ships they claimed were destined for Israel or that had ties to Iran.
In announcing the strikes, Vice President Joe Biden said the United States and its allies were “taking action to prevent further deterioration of the security situation in Yemen that could jeopardize the lives and safety of innocent people.”
But Biden’s administration has been cautious about taking direct actions against the Houthis, fearful of upending the fragile ceasefire and opening another front in the war. That reluctance has been fueled by worries that Iran is seeking to escalate the conflict, which is already in its fourth year. Some of the country’s most powerful allies criticized the airstrikes, including Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The strikes, the first by the United States since a Houthi barrage of missiles and drone attacks last week, targeted radar systems as well as storage and launch sites for drones, cruise missiles and ballistic missiles across “a large area of Yemen,” said Defense Department officials who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the operation. The officials said no civilians were assessed to be present at the locations attacked.
Aircraft based on the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, as well as the destroyers USS Carney and USS Mason, and the guided-missile cruiser USS Philippine Sea fired Tomahawk cruise missiles at the targets. The targets were chosen for their ability to threaten shipping lanes in the Gulf of Aden and Red Sea, the officials said.
A senior administration official said the strikes, telegraphed for weeks, were meant to degrade Houthi capability rather than kill leaders or Iranian trainers, which would be more escalatory. The official said the strike was designed to protect ships from further retaliation by the Houthis, who have been attacking shipping in the region for years.
Officials described the attack as separate from Operation Prosperity Guardian, a defensive partnership to protect ships in the Red Sea. The United States and more than 20 other nations are part of that effort, which is overseen by the U.S. Central Command.
The official said the strikes were aimed at a Houthi airbase north of Sanaa, the airport in the city of Hodeida, a camp east of the capital, and the airport near the town of Taiz. An Iranian-backed news channel quoted a Houthi official as saying the missiles hit the Al-Dailami air base, and that there would be “retaliation beyond the imagination and expectation of the Americans and the British.”
Ahead of the attacks, the United States and 12 other countries issued a warning to the Houthis that further military action would be forthcoming. The warnings were backed by an implicit condemnation of the Houthis’ weapons supplier, Iran. Russia, which abstained from the Security Council vote, criticized the joint strike, with Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia calling it a violation of Article 51 of the UN Charter on self-defense.
The US said its latest strike on a Houthi target was a “follow-on action” to a previous attack against a radar site and that it had been conducted by the Navy destroyer USS Carney, which fired Tomahawk land-attack cruise missiles. It was designed to “degrade the Houthis’ ability to attack maritime vessels, including commercial ships, in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden,” Central Command said.
The Pentagon did not say which other US surface warships launched the Tomahawks, but it is likely that at least some of them are Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers. These warships are the backbone of the US Navy’s surface fleet, with some 70 in commission. They are armed with long-range Tomahawks, which are GPS-guided and can be programmed to fly evasively.
According to Central Command, the latest strikes targeted radar sites, drone and missile launch sites and weapons storage areas, which “pose a threat to shipping in the region.” The US Navy has said that its ships in the area will be protected with a new multinational naval task force established to guard shipping in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden.
Britain was among the allies that joined the US in its missile attack on Yemen, with its defense ministry saying it would always stand up for freedom of navigation and free movement of commerce. The British frigates HMS Argyll and HMS Richmond participated along with a Royal Navy submarine and fighter jets from the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower. The Netherlands, Australia, Canada and Bahrain provided logistics and intelligence support, the ministry said.
One of the most interesting things to watch in coming days is how the Houthis respond to Friday’s airstrikes. The group has vowed a response, and it is unclear how much of an effect the strikes will have on the rebels’ ability to launch attacks on maritime traffic in the area.
It is also worth noting that the strike came just a week after a declaration by the United States and 12 of its allies warning the Houthis to expect unspecified consequences for their repeated attacks on shipping in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden. If the Houthis continue to ignore that warning, their leader will have to decide whether or not to escalate further.
SANAA, Yemen—The US and its allies launched strikes against the Iran-backed Houthis in their latest effort to degrade their ability to attack shipping in the Red Sea. Officials say they targeted radar facilities, command and control nodes, munitions depots, and production centers. They also struck a ship used to carry drones and cruise missiles. The missiles and drones are the primary weapons that the Houthis have used to target commercial ships in recent weeks, forcing some to divert their routes through the Red Sea.
The United States and the UK teamed up for Thursday’s strikes, with American F-18 fighter jets launching from bases in the region and from the aircraft carrier Dwight D. Eisenhower hitting their targets with precision-guided bombs. British Typhoon jets flying from RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus joined the mission, along with two Voyager air-to-air refueling tankers.
All told, about 60 targets were hit in 28 locations with more than 100 precision munitions, Pentagon Director of Operations Lt. Gen. Douglas A. Sims said. The first wave of strikes took place overnight, followed by a second round of attacks that were more concentrated and included a larger number of targets, he added.
While US officials have long telegraphed that international patience with the Houthis had run out, they were cautious about striking because of concerns about upending the fragile truce in Yemen and opening a new war front. They also wanted to avoid triggering a humanitarian crisis in the world’s worst-off country, which would have required the Trump administration to seek congressional approval for additional military action.
In addition to the US-led coalition, the Netherlands, Australia, and Bahrain provided logistics and intelligence support for the operation. A submarine fired Tomahawk missiles from the Red Sea, and a pair of guided-missile destroyers—the USS Florida and the USS Mason—also contributed to the air strikes, according to Central Command.
A Houthi-run satellite news channel reported that the first set of strikes on Thursday night targeted a camp north of Sanaa, a port near the city of Hodeida, and a runway east of Saada. It said a camp south of Hodeida was damaged in the second strike, and that the group’s armed drones are still targeting ships. The news channel quoted a Houthi commander as saying there would be “bigger and more severe retaliation than anyone has imagined.”