U.S. and U.K. Strike Iran-backed Houthi Sites in Yemen

U.S. and U.K. Strike Iran-backed Houthi Sites in Yemen

The US and Britain carried out large-scale military strikes on Monday against eight sites controlled by Houthi militants in Yemen, according to the two countries. The attacks signaled that the Biden administration wants to wage a sustained and, at least for now, indefinite campaign against the Iran-backed group, which has disrupted traffic on key international sea routes.

The strikes – the eighth in nearly two weeks – hit multiple targets in each location and were larger and more comprehensive than a recent series of more limited strikes against individual Houthi missiles that the Americans said had surfaced at short notice. These missiles were hit before they could be fired at ships in the Red Sea or the Gulf of Aden.

But Monday’s planned night strikes, which hit radars as well as drone and missile sites and underground weapons storage bunkers, were smaller than the first retaliatory salvos on Jan. 11. These hit more than 60 targets at nearly 30 locations across Yemen, an expansion of the conflict in the Middle East that the Biden administration wanted to prevent.

This middle ground reflects the government’s attempt to nullify the Houthis’ ability to threaten merchant ships and military vessels, but not to hit them so hard as to kill large numbers of Houthi fighters and commanders and potentially create even more chaos to an already reeling region, the brink of a larger war.

“Let us reiterate our warning to the Houthi leadership: We will not hesitate to defend lives and the free flow of commerce in one of the world’s most critical waterways in the face of ongoing threats,” the American and British governments said in a statement.

They were joined in the statement by the Netherlands, Australia, Canada and Bahrain, which, as in the Jan. 11 attacks, also took part, providing logistics, intelligence and other support, according to U.S. officials.

Overall, however, the U.S.-led attacks in an operation the military is calling “Poseidon Archer” have so far failed to deter the Houthis from attacking shipping lanes to and from the Suez Canal, which are crucial to global trade. The Iran-backed group says it will continue its attacks in what it says is a protest against Israel’s military campaign in Gaza against Hamas.

Indeed, the Houthis remained defiant on Monday following attacks by Navy FA-18 carrier-based fighter jets, Tomahawk cruise missiles and British Typhoon fighter jets. “Retaliation against American and British attacks is inevitable, and any new aggression will not go unpunished,” Houthi military spokesman Yahya Sarea said in a statement ahead of the latest American strikes.

The Houthis claimed on Monday to have attacked an American military cargo ship, Ocean Jazz, in the Gulf of Aden, but the White House and Pentagon denied such an attack took place.

President Biden said Thursday that U.S. airstrikes against the Houthis would continue. “Are they stopping the Houthis? No,” Mr. Biden said. “Will they continue? Yes.”

On Sunday, Jon Finer, a deputy national security adviser, provided insight into the administration’s new strategy toward the Houthis, forged at several high-level meetings at the White House in recent days, senior U.S. officials said.

“They have stockpiles of advanced weapons that have been provided to them or in many cases enabled by Iran,” Mr. Finer said on ABC News’ “This Week.” “We’re removing these supplies so they won’t be able to mount as many attacks over time. It will take some time for this to take hold.”

The U.S.-led air and sea strikes began in response to more than two dozen Houthi drone and missile attacks on merchant vessels in the Red Sea since November. The government and several allies had repeatedly warned the Houthis of serious consequences if the volleys did not stop.

But two U.S. officials warned a few days after the airstrikes began that despite hitting more Houthi missile and drone targets with more than 150 precision-guided munitions, the strikes had only damaged or destroyed about 20 to 30 percent of the Houthi’s offensive capability. Much of it is mounted on mobile platforms and can be easily moved or hidden.

A third senior official said Monday that the number may have risen to 30 to 40 percent after at least 25 to 30 precision-guided munitions successfully hit their targets on Monday. But other U.S. intelligence officials briefed on the size and scope of the Houthis’ arsenal say analysts are not sure how many weapons the group started with.

American and other Western intelligence agencies have not spent much time or resources in recent years collecting data on the locations of Houthi air defenses, command centers, ammunition depots and storage and production facilities for drones and missiles, the officials said.

That changed quickly after the Hamas attacks in Israel on October 7 and the Houthi attacks on merchant ships a month later. U.S. analysts are rushing to catalog more potential Houthi targets every day, the officials said. Those efforts resulted in many of the targets hit on Jan. 11 and Monday, officials said.

Many Republicans in Congress and some former senior U.S. military officials say the approach isn’t working.

“The key is that we have to hurt the Houthis enough for them to stop,” Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., a retired chief of the military’s Central Command, said in an interview. “We haven’t done that yet.”

Vivian Nereim reported from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

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2024-01-23 17:15:14