MAKICHUK: US, UK launch airstrikes on Iranian-backed Houthis

An RAF Typhoon aircraft takes off to join the US-led coalition from RAF Akrotiri to conduct air strikes against military targets in Yemen.
An RAF Typhoon aircraft takes off to join the US-led coalition from RAF Akrotiri to conduct air strikes against military targets in Yemen.UK MOD

The US and UK have launched airstrikes on more than a dozen sites believed to be used by the Iranian-backed Houthis in Yemen, according to US officials.

According to The Guardian, the Jan. 11 strikes are the most significant military response to the Houthis’ persistent campaign of drone and missile attacks on commercial ships in the Red Sea, which began after Israel’s war in Gaza broke out.

The strikes were carried out by U.S. Air Force, U.S. Navy, and U.K. Royal Air Force aircraft. Missiles were also launched from U.S. Navy surface and subsurface vessels, U.S. officials said.

The strikes were directed at over 60 targets at 16 locations, according to Air Forces Central commander Lt. Gen. Alexus G. Grynkewich.

He added that more than 100 precision-guided munitions of various types were used including Tomahawk cruise missiles from the Navy.

The Royal Air Force struck two targets with Paveway guided bombs from four Typhoons, the U.K. Ministry of Defense said.

U.S. and U.K. officials said “non-operational support” was provided by Australia, the Netherlands, Canada and Bahrain.

The Houthis are a Yemeni militia group named after their founder, Hussein Badreddin al-Houthi, and representing the Zaidi branch of Shia Islam.

They emerged in the 1980s in opposition to Saudi Arabia’s religious influence in Yemen.

The group, which has an estimated 20,000 fighters and whose official name is Ansar Allah, runs most of the west of the country and is in charge of its Red Sea coastline.

The Houthis are backed by Iran as part of its longstanding hostility with Saudi Arabia and are supporting Hamas in the war in Gaza, The Guardian reported.

Soon after the Hamas massacre on 7 October, the Houthi leader Abdul Malik Al-Houthi said his forces were “ready to move in the hundreds of thousands to join the Palestinian people and confront the enemy.”

Houthi forces were already bracing for the attack before it took place and were vowing to retaliate, Air & Space Forces reported. 

Tomahawk cruise missiles were used in the retaliatory attack on the Houthis.
Tomahawk cruise missiles were used in the retaliatory attack on the Houthis.US Navy file photo

“Any American attack will not remain without a response,” Malik al-Houthi said in a speech. “The response will be greater than the attack that was carried out with 20 drones and a number of missiles,” he added, referring to the Jan. 9 attack.

In that attack, US and British warships shot down 21 drones and missiles fired by the Houthis, in what London called the largest such attack in the area.

The Red Sea, one of the world’s most densely packed shipping channels, lies south of the Suez canal, the most significant waterway connecting Europe to Asia and east Africa. 

More than 2,000 ships have been forced to divert thousands of miles to avoid the Red Sea, causing weeks of delays.

US President Joe Biden, who has been criticized for his lack of action, said he ordered the strikes “in direct response to unprecedented Houthi attacks against international maritime vessels in the Red Sea.”

“Today, at my direction, U.S. military forces — together with the United Kingdom and with support from Australia, Bahrain, Canada, and the Netherlands — successfully conducted strikes against a number of targets in Yemen used by Houthi rebels to endanger freedom of navigation in one of the world’s most vital waterways,” the president said in a statement released by the White House.

Whether the war on the Houthis will likely cost millions — sources say one missile costs about $2 million while a Houthi drone costs around $2,000 — the success of the raid has yet to be determined.

Meanwhile, Rear-Admiral Emmanuel Slaars, joint commander of French forces in the Red Sea region, told journalists in Paris that French naval forces were patroling the waters where the Houthis operated.

Slaars said the French navy forces remain “under national command” and were “not subordinated” to the US. However, they are cooperating and sharing intelligence with the US.

US submarines also took part in the attack on the Houthis.
US submarines also took part in the attack on the Houthis.US Navy file photo

Some American allies in the Middle East, including the Gulf nations of Qatar and Oman, had raised concerns that strikes against the Houthis could spiral out of control and drag the region into a wider war with other Iranian proxies, such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and Tehran-backed militias in Syria and Iraq.

But on Thursday, the United States and the UK decided to act.

“The United Kingdom will always stand up for freedom of navigation and the free flow of trade,” Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said in a statement.

President Biden authorized the strikes earlier in the week and Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III gave the final go-ahead on Thursday from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., where he is being treated for complications from prostate cancer surgery.

The Houthis, who support Palestinian group Hamas, called the attacks "barbaric" and warned they will continue to target ships heading towards Israel. There was no comment yet from Israel.

Iranian Ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanaani said: “These attacks are a clear violation of Yemen’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and a breach of international laws.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan condemned the strikes and said the US and UK are “trying to turn the Red Sea into a sea of blood.”

Jordanian foreign minister Ayman Safadi said: “The Israeli aggression on Gaza and its continued committing of war crimes against the Palestinian people and violating international law with impunity are responsible for the rising tensions witnessed in the region.”

Areas attacked by US/UK forces on Jan. 11.
Areas attacked by US/UK forces on Jan. 11.UK MOD

The Lebanese group, Hezbollah, which is an ally of Iran and the Houthis, said the US aggression confirms that Washington is in “full partnership” with Israel.

“The US is a full partner in the tragedies and massacres committed by the Zionist enemy in Gaza and the region,” a statement from the group said.

Russia said the strikes violate international law and wrongly take advantage of a UN resolution that had demanded the Houthis stop their attacks on shipping lanes.

“The US air strikes on Yemen are another example of the Anglo-Saxons’ perversion of UN Security Council resolutions,” said Maria Zakharova, the foreign ministry spokesperson.

Zakharova said the strikes showed a “complete disregard for international law” and were “escalating the situation in the region.”

It is not known what part Canada played in the attack on the Houthis, however the Canadian Armed Forces deployed three staff officers to join Operation Prosperity Guardian in December.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has yet to designate as a terror group Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which the U.S. suspects of supporting these recent Houthi attacks, the National Post reported.

Such a move would put the IRGC under Canada’s terrorist financing laws, which is currently not a concern to Canadian leaders.

— with files from The New York Times/Al Jazeera English

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