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US And UK Hit 30 Houthi Targets To Further Weaken Iran-Backed Groups

The United States and Britain struck at least 30 Houthi targets in Yemen on Saturday in another wave of assaults meant to further disable Iran-backed groups that have attacked US and international interests in response to the Israel-Hamas war.

Ships and fighter jets on Saturday launched strikes against the Houthis. It followed an air assault in Iraq and Syria on Friday targeting other Iran-backed militias and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard in retaliation for the drone strike that killed three US troops – William Jerome Rivers, Kennedy Ladon Sanders and Breonna Alexsondria Moffett – in Jordan last weekend.

The US defence secretary, Lloyd Austin, said the military action “sends a clear message to the Houthis that they will continue to bear further consequences if they do not end their illegal attacks on international shipping and naval vessels.”

The Houthi targets were in 13 different locations and were struck by US F/A-18 fighter jets from the USS Dwight D Eisenhower aircraft carrier, by British Typhoon FGR4 fighter aircraft and by the destroyers USS Gravely and the USS Carney firing Tomahawk missiles from the Red Sea, according to US officials and the UK defence ministry. The US officials were not authorised to publicly discuss the military operation and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Saturday’s strikes marked the third time the US and Britain had conducted a large, joint operation to strike Houthi launchers, radar sites and drones. But the Houthis have made it clear that they have no intention of scaling back their assault.

On Friday, the US destroyer Laboon and F/A-18s from the Eisenhower shot down seven drones launched from Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen into the Red Sea; the destroyer Carney also shot down a drone fired in the Gulf of Aden and US forces took out four more drones that were prepared to launch.

Hours before the latest joint operation, the US undertook another self-defence strike on a site in Yemen, destroying six anti-ship cruise missiles, as it has repeatedly when it has detected a missile or drone ready to launch.

The US warned that its response after the soldiers’ deaths at the Tower 22 base in Jordan last Sunday would not be limited to one night, one target or one group. While there has been no suggestion the Houthis were directly responsible, they have been one of the prime US adversaries since Hamas attacked Israel on 7 October 2023, killing more than 1,200 people and taking about 250 hostages.

The Houthis have been conducting almost daily missile or drone attacks against commercial and military ships transiting the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden and they have made clear that they have no intention of scaling back despite pressure from the American and British campaign.

Mohammed al-Bukhaiti, a Houthi official, said “military operations against Israel will continue until the crimes of genocide in Gaza are stopped and the siege on its residents is lifted, no matter the sacrifices it costs us.” He wrote online that the “American-British aggression against Yemen will not go unanswered, and we will meet escalation with escalation”.

The Biden administration has indicated that this is likely not the last of its strikes. The US has blamed the Jordan attack on the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, a coalition of Iranian-backed militias. Iran has tried to distance itself from the drone strike, saying the militias act independently of its direction.

Austin said the military action, with support from Australia, Bahrain, Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands, and New Zealand, “sends a clear message to the Houthis that they will continue to bear further consequences if they do not end their illegal attacks on international shipping and naval vessels”.

He added: “We will not hesitate to defend lives and the free flow of commerce in one of the world’s most critical waterways.”

The Pentagon said the strikes targeted sites associated with the Houthis’ deeply buried weapons storage facilities, missile systems and launchers, air defence, radars and helicopters. The British military said it struck a ground control station west of Yemen’s capital, Sana’a, that has been used to control Houthi drones that have launched against vessels in the Red Sea.

The US president, Joe Biden, was briefed on the strikes before he left Delaware on Saturday for a west coast campaign trip, according to an administration official.

The strikes in Yemen are meant to underscore the broader message to Iran that Washington holds Tehran responsible for arming, funding and training the array of militias – from Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Gaza, the Islamic Resistance in Iraq and the Houthis in Yemen – who are behind attacks across the Middle East against US and international interests.

Video shared online by people in Sana’a included the sound of explosions and at least one blast was seen lighting up the night sky. Residents described the blasts as happening around buildings associated with the Yemeni presidential compound. The Houthi-controlled news agency Saba reported strikes in al-Bayda, Dhamar, Hajjah, Hodeida, Taiz and Sana’a provinces.

The Houthis’ attacks have led shipping companies to reroute their vessels from the Red Sea, sending them around Africa through the Cape of Good Hope – a much longer, costlier and less efficient passage. The threats also have led the US and its allies to set up a joint mission where warships from participating nations provide a protective umbrella of air defense for ships as they travel the critical waterway that runs from the Suez Canal down to the Bab el-Mandeb Strait.

During normal operations about 400 commercial vessels transit the southern Red Sea at any given time.

In the wake of the strikes on Friday in Iraq and Syria, Hussein al-Mosawi, spokesperson for Harakat al-Nujaba, one of the main Iranian-backed militias in Iraq, said Washington “must understand that every action elicits a reaction”. But in an AP interview in Baghdad, he also struck a more conciliatory tone. “We do not wish to escalate or widen regional tensions,” he said.

Iraqi officials have attempted to rein in the militias, while also condemning US retaliatory strikes as a violation of Iraqi sovereignty and calling for an exit of the 2,500 US troops who are in Iraq as part of an international coalition to fight Islamic State. In January, Iraqi and US military officials launched formal talks to wind down the coalition’s presence, a process that likely to take years.

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