US, UK launch heavy strikes on Houthi sites in Yemen

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The United States and Britain carried out large-scale military strikes on Saturday against several sites in Yemen controlled by Houthi militants, according to a statement from the two countries and six allies, as the Biden administration continues its campaign of retaliation in the Middle East targeting Iran. -supported militias.

The attacks on 36 Houthi targets at 13 locations in northern Yemen came just 24 hours after the United States carried out a military operation. series of military strikes against Iranian forces and the militias they support at seven sites in Syria and Iraq.

American and British warplanes, along with Navy Tomahawk cruise missiles, struck deeply buried weapons storage facilities; missile systems and launchers; air defense systems; and radars in Yemen, the statement said. Australia, Bahrain, Denmark, Canada, the Netherlands and New Zealand provided support which officials said included intelligence and logistical assistance.

“These precision strikes aim to disrupt and degrade the capabilities that the Houthis use to threaten global trade and the lives of innocent sailors, and are a response to a series of illegal, dangerous and destabilizing actions by the Houthis since previous strikes of the coalition,” the statement said. said, referring to major attacks carried out by the United States and Britain last month.

The attacks are the second largest salvo since the allies first struck Houthi targets on January 11. They come after a week in which the Houthis have been particularly provocative, launching several attack drones and cruise and ballistic missiles at US Navy merchant ships and warships. in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden.

The U.S.-led air and naval strikes began last month in response to dozens of Houthi drone and missile attacks on commercial shipping in the Red Sea since November. The Houthis say their attacks are aimed at protesting Israel’s military campaign against Hamas in Gaza.

The United States and several allies had repeatedly warned the Houthis of serious consequences if the salvos did not stop. But U.S.-led strikes have so far failed to deter the Houthis from attacking shipping lanes to and from the Suez Canal, critical to global trade. Hundreds of ships were forced to take a long detour through southern Africa, which drives up costs.

“Our military operations against the Zionist entity will continue until the aggression against Gaza ceases, regardless of the sacrifices it demands of us,” a senior Houthi official said in response to the latest attacks. “We will face escalation after escalation.”

Although the Biden administration says it is not seeking to expand the war in the region, the strikes of the past two days represent an escalation.

In terms of scale, the strikes in Yemen were roughly the size of the US and UK attacks. is January. 22but smaller than the bursts on January 11officials said.

Saturday’s strikes came after an exchange of more limited attacks over the previous 36 hours between the Houthis and U.S. forces in the Red Sea and nearby waters.

On Friday around 10:30 a.m. local time, the destroyer Carney shot down a drone flying over the Gulf of Aden. Six hours later, the United States attacked four Houthi attack drones that the military’s Central Command said were about to launch and threaten merchant ships in the Red Sea. Around 9:20 p.m., U.S. forces struck cruise missiles in Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen after determining they posed a threat to shipping in the region, Central Command said in another statement. And about five hours later, early Saturday, the Laboon destroyer and FA-18 attack aircraft shot down seven drones flying over the Red Sea.

Then on Saturday evening, ahead of the planned strikes, the United States struck six Houthi anti-ship cruise missiles as they prepared to be launched against ships in the Red Sea, central command said.

So far, the Biden administration has attempted to reduce the Houthis’ ability to threaten merchant ships and military vessels without killing large numbers of Houthi fighters and commanders, which could potentially trigger even more chaos in a war extending.

“I don’t see how these airstrikes will achieve U.S. objectives or prevent further regional escalation,” said Stacey Philbrick Yadav, a Yemen expert at Hobart and William Smith Colleges. “While they may degrade Houthi capabilities in the short term, the group’s leaders have committed to continuing their attacks on the Red Sea and retaliating in response to these airstrikes. »

Saturday’s strikes came as the U.S. military began assessing dozens of airstrikes it carried out Friday evening that hit 85 targets at seven sites in Iraq and Syria.

The strikes were in retaliation for a drone attack on a remote outpost in Jordan last Sunday, which killed three American soldiers. Washington suggested that an Iraqi militia linked to Iran, Kataib Hezbollah, was behind the attack.

Syria and Iraq said Friday’s strikes killed at least 39 people – 23 in Syria and 16 in Iraq – a toll that the Iraqi government said included civilians.

The multiple strikes left the region on high alert, although analysts said they appeared designed to avoid a confrontation with Iran by focusing on the militias’ operational capabilities.

“We are not seeking conflict in the Middle East or anywhere else,” US Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III said after Friday’s strikes, “but the president and I will not tolerate attacks on American forces.

The reaction of Iranian officials to Friday’s series of strikes was condemnatory but not inflammatory. A Foreign Ministry spokesman, Nasser Kanaani, said the US attacks represented “another strategic error” but stopped short of talking about a response.

Syria and Iraq have denounced US strikes in their countries as violations of their sovereignty, adding that the attacks would only hamper the fight against Islamic State militants.

Washington not only calibrated its attacks to avoid fueling a broader war, but openly warned that they would take place days before the strikes, said Maha Yahya, director of the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut, Lebanon. Both sides, she added, had sought ways to attack that remained “below a threshold that would result in all-out war.”

The stakes for this US bombing were high, given growing tensions in the Middle East due to the war in Gaza and the violence it has fueled elsewhere in the region.

Since Hamas’ deadly assault on Israel on October 7, and Israel’s retaliatory bombing and ground invasion campaign in Gaza, Iran-backed militias have carried out more than 160 attacks against U.S. forces in the region, as well as against commercial vessels in the country. the Red Sea.

Yemen’s Houthis have said they will not stop attacks in the Red Sea until there is a ceasefire in Gaza. Mr. Kanaani, the Iranian foreign minister, echoed that sentiment, saying on Saturday that “unlimited US support” for Israel was a key driver of regional tensions.

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken will return to the region this week to continue negotiations on the release of Israeli hostages and a temporary ceasefire. More than 27,000 Palestinians have died in the conflict, according to Gaza health authorities, and about 1,200 Israelis have been killed, Israeli officials said. More than 100 hostages kidnapped in Israel during the October 7 assault remain captive in Gaza.

The three American soldiers killed in Jordan were the first to die in Gaza-related military violence since the start of the war. The United States said it only struck targets associated with Iran-backed militias involved in the attack on the base in Jordan or other offensives against U.S. troops.

But the United States has not attacked Iran itself, despite its status as patron and general coordinator of these militias. Nor did it touch Lebanon’s Hezbollah, the most powerful of Iran’s regional proxies, which fought Israeli troops along the Lebanese-Israeli border throughout the Gaza war.

This fits with U.S. efforts to separate its own military activities from those of Israel, which says it seeks to destroy Hamas.

The question of how successful the new strikes will be in degrading the military capabilities of Iran and its proxies – or deterring them from attacking the United States – remains open.

Iran created its network, with affiliates in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen, to expand its influence and give it a way to strike its enemies without having to do it itself, analysts say. Anti-Iran hawks in the United States and the Middle East often argue that attacking proxies without touching Iran is a waste of time.

Ms. Yahya of the Carnegie Center said she did not expect the new U.S. strikes to dramatically change the activities of Iran’s regional proxies.

“The only thing that would cause them to withdraw would be a clear sign from Iran telling them to withdraw,” she said. “But even then, they may or may not listen.”

This is because Iran does not directly control its proxies, who have wide latitude to make their own decisions, Ms. Yahya said.

The report was provided by King Abdulrahim And Aaron Boxerman from Jerusalem, Max Bearak from New York, Ben Hubbard from Istanbul, Hwaida Saad from Beirut and David E. Sanger from Berlin.

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