US and coalition forces pounded Houthi targets in Yemen Thursday night, with more than 100 precision-guided munitions at 16 locations. The strikes targeted command and control nodes, munitions depots, launching systems, and production facilities.
The strikes were meant to restore deterrence in the face of Iran-backed Houthi attacks on shipping that had wreaked havoc on global supply chains. They appear to have succeeded.
What We Know About the Strikes on Houthis and Strategy Behind Them
As the United States and its allies conduct a series of air strikes on Houthi sites in Yemen, it is important to understand what is being targeted. As the Pentagon explains, the goal is to deter the rebels from attacking ships in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden. The Houthis have ignored two previous ultimatums from the United States and its allies, and the threat of further attacks on international shipping is real. If the conflict continues, it will disrupt global trade and put lives at risk.
The US and its allies launched the latest round of strikes on Thursday and Friday, targeting missile storage and launch sites, radar systems, drone operational sites, and Houthi command and control nodes. The strikes were based on intelligence, and the targets were located in the capital Sanaa, the Red Sea port of Hodeidah, and the northern provinces of Dhamar and Bani. The UK also struck a facility near the town of Abbs, which is reportedly a drone and missile storage site.
These strikes do not appear to have significantly damaged Houthi capabilities. But it is hard to imagine that they will discourage the Houthis from continuing their harassment of shipping in the region, given the Iranian support for them and their determination to bring the West into a confrontation with Israel. Moreover, the strikes do not address the bigger issue of Iran’s intervention in Yemen and its broader implications for regional stability.
The United States and its allies should consider a more holistic approach to dealing with the Houthis and their sponsors. This should include bolstering peace negotiations in Yemen, revamping vessel inspections to detect threats early, and increasing military presence to deter possible attacks. This would provide a more lasting deterrent and allow the U.S. to focus on its broader regional interests and priorities, including countering Iran’s ambitions in the region. The strikes should be accompanied by increased efforts to raise public awareness of the extent of Iranian support for the Houthis, so that multilateral bodies and the Trump administration can more forcefully condemn the role of Iran in Yemen and demand that the Houthis renounce it as part of peace negotiations.
The United States and the UK launched military strikes against Houthi targets in Yemen on Jan. 12, striking more than 60 locations in a series of waves, including command and control nodes, munition depots, launching systems, production facilities and air defense radar systems. In the first wave of attacks, more than 100 precision-guided munitions were used, according to US Air Forces Central Command.
The goal of the strikes was to deprive the Houthis of the means to attack US, coalition and commercial maritime traffic in the Red Sea. This was a clear objective, which is why the strikes were so focused.
While the strikes were likely a significant escalation, it is unlikely that they will lead to a larger conflict in the region. Israel’s assault on Hamas in Gaza, tensions with Hezbollah, and other ongoing regional conflicts make a broader war in the Middle East too risky to take place, at least for now.
But the Houthis have vowed to retaliate, and they have the resources to do so. The group has been using the weapons it has received from Iran to threaten shipping in the Red Sea, and it could use those same resources — drones, missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles — against US and allied warships in the future.
In a press call, US and British officials indicated that the strikes were designed to disrupt the Houthis’ ability to attack ships in international waters. The Pentagon said that it would continue to monitor the situation and take action as needed. The strikes were separate from Operation Prosperity Guardian, the US-led defensive partnership to protect shipping in the Red Sea.
The retaliatory strikes were a clear sign that the Trump administration is not hesitating to act. The president has directed the military to use all available options to deprive the Houthis of their military capabilities. And that should be enough to reduce the group’s ability to destabilize the region, threaten global shipping and endanger civilians on land and at sea. The question is whether the US and its allies will have the regional support to continue to take this kind of action.
The US-led strikes targeted “command and control nodes, munition depots, launching systems, production facilities and air defense radar systems” and involved more than 150 precision-guided munitions including F/A-18 Super Hornets based on the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, the guided-missile destroyers USS Gravely and USS Mason, the cruiser USS Philippine Sea, and the Ohio-class guided-missile submarine USS Carney. A military statement said the targets were chosen to reduce the Houthis’ ability to destabilize Yemen, threaten global shipping and endanger international mariners in one of the world’s most critical waterways. The United Kingdom said the strikes also hit a site in Bani allegedly used to launch Houthi drones and an airfield in Abbs from which cruise missiles and drones could be launched.
According to the Pentagon, the strikes constituted the most sophisticated attacks yet against the Iran-backed rebels. They included the use of an anti-ship missile and a guided bomb. But the weapons were likely just a drop in the ocean compared to what the US has already rained down on the Houthis in years of airstrikes. Weapons caches are now distributed all over the country and high-value targets are probably underground, avoiding US attack aircraft.
It’s unlikely the Houthis will be overly concerned about being hit again, however. The group is backed by Iran and has built up a significant arsenal, including cruise missiles and drones. Moreover, it has made clear that its raids on ships in the Red Sea are a part of its so-called resistance axis, a coalition of non-state armed groups opposed to Israel and the US, including Hizbollah in Lebanon, Iran-backed militias in Syria and Iraq, as well as Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Palestine.
The US and its allies are still struggling to find a way to resolve the conflict in Yemen, but it’s not going to happen through airstrikes or putting boots on the ground. The most promising path forward is to help the Yemeni government and its forces, which are capable of addressing the Houthi threat without a broader war. That won’t be easy, but it’s the best option for the region in the long term.
The Strikes on Houthis Targeted Military Facilities
The strikes on Houthi military facilities, which accounted for the majority of Thursday’s actions, targeted airfields, missile launchers, and other infrastructure used to attack ships. According to the White House, they were aimed at reducing the group’s ability to destabilize the region and threaten global shipping, endanger Israel with poorly planned attacks, and jeopardize civilians on land and at sea.
The US and British military reportedly hit 60 targets across 28 sites, including missile launchers near the port city of Hodeidah, a camp east of Sanaa, the al-Dailami air base north of the capital, and an airport near Taiz. The Pentagon says it targeted the “command and control, maritime domain awareness, and attack capabilities” of the Houthis.
But it is unclear whether such strikes will dissuade the Houthis from continuing their attacks on regional shipping, which the rebels claim are in support of Palestinians. Despite the airstrikes, a Houthi military spokesman said the raids were only an initial response to “Israeli aggression and its war crimes in the waters of the Red Sea.”
It is also unclear whether the strikes will jeopardize Yemen’s political negotiations, which have been stymied by Houthi intransigence for years. But it is likely that the US and its allies are looking for some kind of concession from the Houthis in order to bring the talks back on track.
In the end, though, the Houthis have little to lose by continuing their attacks on ships. Their military resources are limited, and the United States has demonstrated that it will respond to them with force when necessary. As long as the United States and its allies have the political will to do so, they can continue to demonstrate that the Houthis cannot act with impunity. But the United States must learn some lessons from past mistakes and take care not to get drawn into a larger conflict. It would be a major mistake to equate the conflict with Iran, which is providing the Houthis with military capabilities that the US cannot ignore. Sarhang Hamaseed is a senior Middle East and Africa analyst at the U.S. Institute of Peace and a contributing editor at the New York Times.