U.S., Britain launch new wave of strikes against Houthis in Yemen

U.S. and British forces launched a new wave of strikes against Houthi militants in Yemen on Saturday night, U.S. officials said, the latest effort to stop what have become near-daily attacks on commercial vessels in the Red Sea and nearby waterways.

The strikes, carried out shortly before midnight in Yemen, mark the largest military action against the Houthis in weeks, though U.S. forces have launched smaller attacks against various targets, such as Houthi missiles prepared to be launched. The new wave, U.S. officials said, was meant to target infrastructure and weapons that the Houthis have used to carry out attacks.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a statement that the United States and Britain acted with support from Australia, Bahrain, Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands and New Zealand. The strikes were spread across eight locations, hitting underground weapons-storage facilities, missile-storage facilities, one-way attack drones, air defenses, radar and a helicopter to “further disrupt and degrade” the Houthis from carrying out attacks at sea, 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,” Austin said. “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.”

The participating nations said in a joint statement that the strikes hit 18 Houthi targets.

“Our aim remains to de-escalate tensions and restore stability in the Red Sea, but we will once again reiterate our warning to Houthi leadership: we will not hesitate to continue to defend lives and the free flow of commerce in the face of continued threats,” the joint statement said.

The strikes were carried out in part by F/A-18 fighter jets from the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, an aircraft carrier that has been in the Red Sea, a U.S. defense official said. It was not immediately clear how British forces participated.

The military action came at the end of a week in which the Houthis carried out several brazen attacks, including one Feb. 18 that damaged the MV Rubymar, a British-owned vessel that was carrying 41,000 tons of fertilizer, U.S. military officials said in a statement. The attack caused an 18-mile oil slick and forced the crew to abandon the ship. The following day, on Feb. 19, the Houthis struck the MV Sea Champion, a U.S.-owned vessel that was carrying grain to the Yemeni port city of Aden.

The Houthis, a band of militants that seized control of part of Yemen in 2014, have cast their campaign of violence as a response to Israeli military operations in Gaza, and U.S. support of Israel. The group gets weapons and training from Iran, U.S. officials have said, and is part of a broader network of proxy militias on which Tehran has influence.

But the continued cycle of Houthi attacks stands in contrast to the situation in Iraq and Syria, where U.S. forces weathered more than 150 attacks between October and Feb. 4, but are now seeing a relative period of calm. Following the death of three U.S. soldiers in northeastern Jordan on Jan. 28, the Biden administration launched retaliatory airstrikes in Iraq and Syria on Feb. 3, hitting dozens of targets affiliated with Iranian-backed militias it held responsible.

No attacks have occurred against U.S. forces in Iraq, Syria or Jordan since Feb. 4, but the Houthis have continued their own campaign of violence. As of Friday, they had launched at least 57 attacks against commercial shipping since November.

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