The United States carried out another attack against the Houthi militia in Yemen, US Central Command said on Friday evening. They bombed a radar facility to further limit the Iranian-backed group’s ability to attack ships passing through the Red Sea.
It was the second straight day that the US military fired on a Houthi target, following a spate of American-led military strikes early Friday local time aimed at securing key shipping routes between Europe and Asia. The strikes come amid fears of a further escalation of the conflict in the Middle East.
The attack, carried out by the USS Carney with Tomahawk missiles at 3:45 a.m. local time on Saturday, was “a follow-up operation against a specific military target,” Central Command said in a statement posted on social media. A Pentagon official said Friday evening that the attack was intended to advance work begun with the widespread coordinated air and sea attack on a number of Houthi targets in Yemen the night before.
Houthi forces in Yemen vowed earlier Friday to retaliate for previous attacks involving missiles and warplanes fired by the United States and Britain in response to increasing attacks by the Iran-backed Houthis on merchant vessels and warships in the Red The militia declared that it was acting in solidarity with the Palestinians in the war between Israel and Hamas.
Lt. Gen. Douglas Sims, director of the US military’s Joint Staff, told reporters in a conference call before the new attack that the Pentagon was more than ready for a response from the Houthis.
“I expect they will attempt some sort of retaliation,” General Sims said, adding that this would be a mistake. “We simply won’t let ourselves be messed with here.”
A military spokesman for the Houthis, Yahya Saree, said in a social media post on Friday that the US-led attacks “will not go unanswered and unpunished.” He said the earlier attacks killed at least five members of the Houthi forces, an armed group that controls northern Yemen, including the capital Sana.
However, the Houthis’ response on Friday was to hurl a single anti-ship missile harmlessly into the Red Sea, away from passing ships, General Sims said.
John Kirby, a White House spokesman, said Friday that the attacks ordered by President Biden were not intended to spark a larger regional war.
“We are not interested in a war with Yemen – we are not interested in a conflict of any kind,” he said. “In fact, the president has done everything he can to prevent the conflict from escalating, including the strikes last night.”
Mr. Kirby said that whatever the United States hit was a “valid, legitimate military target.”
American and British forces fired more than 150 missiles and bombs on Friday at several dozen targets in Yemen specifically chosen to impede the Houthis’ ability to threaten shipping – weapons storage areas, radars and missile and drone launch sites – US said -Officer. The attacks marked the first attack by the West after the United States and its allies repeatedly warned that the Houthis and Iran must stop attacks at sea or face consequences, only to see them gain weight.
More than 2,000 ships were forced to reroute thousands of miles to avoid the Red Sea, causing weeks of delays, American officials say. On Tuesday, American and British warships intercepted one of the largest barrage of Houthi drone and missile attacks yet, an attack that U.S. and other Western military officials said was the final straw.
Military analysts were still assessing the results of the first barrage on Friday, but General Sims said the strikes had achieved their goal of impairing the Houthis’ ability to launch the kind of complex drone and missile attack they carried out on Tuesday.
U.S. and British forces struck more than 60 targets in 16 locations with more than 100 precision-guided munitions in the first wave of attacks, General Sims and other officials said. About 30 to 60 minutes later, a second wave hit dozens more targets in 12 additional locations with more than 50 weapons, it said.
Because of the hour and the remote locations of many targets, casualties were likely minimal, Gen. Sims said. He avoided questions about whether the Houthis had previously managed to get people and equipment out of the danger zone, as the media repeatedly reported that the attacks were imminent.
The consequences of tensions in the Red Sea reach far beyond the Middle East. A number of merchant ships heading to the Suez Canal changed course after the American-led attacks. The International Association of Independent Tanker Owners, a trade group, said the U.S.-led coalition had ordered shipping companies to avoid the Bab al Mendab, the narrow strait at the mouth of the Red Sea, for “several days.”
Traffic has fallen on the Suez Canal, which handles more than 20,000 ships each year and pays Egypt billions of dollars in transit fees, as hundreds of ships have rerouted their journeys to bypass the canal and the Red Sea and take the much longer route at the southern tip of Africa, which lasts one to three weeks.
Mr Biden confirmed the first attacks on Thursday evening – Friday morning in Yemen – and said 2,000 ships had been forced to reroute since mid-November.
In the three months since the Houthis began attacks on merchant ships, the price of transporting a standard 40-foot container between China and Northern Europe has risen from $1,500 to $4,000, according to the Kiel Institute for the World Economy, a German research organization US dollar more than doubled.
The president called the initial attacks a “clear message that the United States and our partners will not tolerate attacks on our personnel or allow hostile actors to threaten freedom of navigation on one of the world’s most critical trade routes.”
British warplanes took part in the earlier attacks, and Australia, Bahrain, Canada and the Netherlands provided logistics, intelligence and other support, according to U.S. officials.
The attacks led to large protests in Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen, and even some American allies in the Arab world expressed concern that the attacks would not deter the Houthis and a region where Israel’s war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip simmering, could heat up further.
Oman, a U.S. ally that has brokered talks with the Houthis, criticized the initial attacks and expressed its “deep concern.”
Saudi Arabia, concerned about unraveling Yemen’s fragile ceasefire between the Houthis and the internationally recognized Saudi-backed government, said it was monitoring the situation in the Red Sea with “extreme concern.” After spending years and billions of dollars on Yemen’s civil war, the Saudis sought to withdraw from the conflict.
“The Kingdom confirms the importance of protecting the security and stability of the Red Sea region,” the Saudi government said in a statement, calling for “self-restraint and avoiding escalation.”
Russia requested an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council on Friday to discuss the U.S.-led attacks, according to a diplomat from France, which holds the rotating presidency of the Council this month. The meeting was scheduled for Friday afternoon. On Wednesday, the council passed a resolution condemning Houthi attacks in the Red Sea but not authorizing countermeasures.
Analysts who study the Houthis said the U.S.-led airstrikes could fit into the group’s agenda and were unlikely to stop the group’s attacks.
“This was not a miscalculation by the Houthis,” said Hannah Porter, senior research director at ARK Group, a British firm that works in international development. “That was the goal. They hope for an expanded regional war and are eager to be at the forefront of that war.”
Just hours after the first wave of attacks, Mohammed al-Bukhaiti, a senior Houthi official, said the United States and Britain would soon realize they had committed “the greatest folly in their history.”
The war in Gaza has given unlikely prominence to the Houthis, whose ideology has long included hostility to the United States and Israel. Part of the group’s slogan is: “Death to America, death to Israel, a curse on the Jew.” Their attacks in the Red Sea and support for the Palestinian cause have gained them popularity in the Arab world.
The group, which espouses a religious ideology inspired by a sect of Shiite Islam, has honed its military capabilities over the years of civil war. In 2014, they took over Sana and beat back a Saudi-led coalition that sought to oust them. This deepened one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises while the Houthis remained in power in northern Yemen. There they have created an impoverished proto-state that they rule with an iron fist.
“They assume that there are not many valuable targets for the US and Britain to attack because the country is already in ruins,” said Abdullah Baabood, a senior foreign scholar from Oman at the Carnegie Middle East Center. “Therefore, they will not hesitate to test the situation further and escalate the conflict.”
The attacks could also help the Houthis in domestic politics, said Ibrahim Jalal, a Yemeni non-resident scholar at the Middle East Institute, a Washington-based research group. Direct confrontation with the West provides “another excuse for ‘foreign enemies’ to distract the public from their failing, unserviceable rebel government,” he said.
Hundreds of thousands of people in Yemen have died from fighting, starvation and disease since a Saudi-led coalition began its bombing campaign in 2015, backed by American weapons and military aid.
Aid groups and Yemeni analysts have warned that the new attacks, combined with the escalation in the Red Sea, could worsen Yemen’s economic crisis, increasing fuel and food costs and worsening hunger.
Reporting was contributed by Eric Schmitt, Raja Abdulrahim, Zach Montague, Saeed Al-Batati, Stanley Reed, Farnaz Fassihi, Stephen Castle and Gaya Gupta.