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Red Sea: US launches new strikes on Houthi weapons systems

February 18, 2024

US forces said they "conducted five self-defense strikes" to foil attacks from Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen. The rebels have staged multiple assaults on merchant shipping since Israel's war with Hamas unfolded.

A Tomahawk land attack missile is launched from a US Navy destroyer against Houthi military targets in Yemen on February 3, 2024
The US and Britain have stepped up naval patrols in the Middle East, with the EU set to followImage: U.S. Central Command/Handout via REUTERS

The United States conducted five self-defense strikes in areas of Yemen controlled by the Iranian-backed Houthi militia, US Central Command (CENTCOM) said on Sunday.

CENTCOM said in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter, that the attacks targeted "three mobile anti-ship cruise missiles, one unmanned underwater vessel (UUV), and one unmanned surface vessel (USV)."

It's the first case of the US military reporting the Houthis using an underwater drone.

The strikes occurred between 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. local time (1200 and 1700 GMT) on Saturday.

CENTCOM said its forces determined that the missiles and vessels "presented an imminent threat to US Navy ships and merchant vessels in the region" and that its action would help "protect freedom of navigation and make international waters safer and more secure."

Red Sea: A critical trade chokepoint

Houthi attacks in the Red Sea area have been one sign of spreading conflict in the Middle East since war erupted between Israel and Hamas after the militant group's deadly assault on Israel on October 7.

The Houthis, who control the most populous parts of Yemen, say their attacks are in solidarity with Palestinians as Israel strikes Gaza.

The latest took place on Saturday against an oil tanker which the Houthis said was British but was later confirmed to be Danish.

The tanker "sustained minor damage" in the missile strike northwest of Yemen's port of Mokha, security firm Ambrey said.  

Shipping costs to Europe rocket

But the attacks have caused alarm among global shipping firms whose vessels moving goods from Asia to Europe rely on the Red Sea to reach the Suez Canal and onto the Mediterranean Sea.

Due to soaring insurance costs, major shipping lines have largely abandoned the Red Sea — a critical trade route that carries about 12% of global maritime trade — for much longer routes around Africa, leading to drastically increased fuel costs.

The US and Britain have sent warships to the Middle East to protect the shipping lanes and the US has relabeled the Houthisa specially designated global terrorist group and will introduce new sanctions against them this coming week.

EU to launch naval mission to Middle East

Germany sends frigate to help secure Red Sea

European Union foreign ministers will meet on Monday in Brussels to formally launch a naval mission of their own to help protect international shipping in the Red Sea against Houthi attacks, officials said Friday.

The operation — named "Aspides," an ancient Greek word for shield — will involve three frigates for an initial year-long mission.

Brussels said the operational area will include Bab el-Mandeb, the Strait of Hormuz, as well as international waters in the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden, the Arabian Sea, the Gulf of Oman and the Arabian Gulf.

mm/msh (AFP, Reuters)