Saturday’s multinational strike on the Houthis is “unrelated” to the administration’s response to the Jordan attack, according to one senior administration official, who was granted anonymity to discuss sensitive plans.
U.S. and British forces, supported by Australia, Bahrain, Denmark, Canada, the Netherlands and New Zealand, on Saturday hit 36 Houthi targets across 13 locations in Yemen, according to a Pentagon statement. The strikes specifically targeted sites associated with the Houthis’ underground weapons storage facilities, missile systems and launchers, air defense systems, and radars, the Pentagon said.
“These precision strikes are intended to disrupt and degrade the capabilities that the Houthis use to threaten global trade, and the lives of innocent mariners, and are in response to a series of illegal, dangerous, and destabilizing Houthi actions since previous coalition strikes on January 11 and 22, 2024,” according to the statement, citing a Jan. 27 attack that struck and set fire to the Marshall Islands-flagged oil tanker M/V Marlin Luanda.
The strikes were launched from air, sea and subsurface platforms, a second U.S. official said.
The Houthis have now launched more than 30 attacks on commercial and naval vessels since mid-November, according to the Pentagon statement.
“Our aim remains to de-escalate tensions and restore stability in the Red Sea but let us reiterate our warning to Houthi leadership: we will not hesitate to continue to defend lives and the free flow of commerce in one of the world’s most critical waterways in the face of continued threats,” according to the statement.
The actions taken by President Joe Biden have been carefully calibrated to avoid provoking a war with Iran. Instead of targeting Iranian military leadership, Friday’s strikes focused on logistical facilities, weapons storage sites and command centers. Still, by striking the Quds Force, a branch of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Biden is sending a stronger message to Tehran.
Iran’s response to the Friday bombing assault was calculated.
“The attack last night on Syria and Iraq is an adventurous action and another strategic mistake by the American government which will have no result other than increasing tensions and destabilizing the region,” Nasser Kanaani, the foreign ministry spokesman, said Saturday.
The governments of Syria and Iraq condemned Friday’s bombing runs, saying they would hurt the ability to fight Islamic State terrorists.
Iran’s proxies in Iraq and Syria seem to be getting the message, however. There have been no additional attacks on U.S. troops in either country, or Jordan, since
the Tower 22 attack that killed three U.S. soldiers, according to a DOD official, who was granted anonymity to speak about sensitive operations. Overall, there have been 166 such attacks since October.
The Houthis on the other hand have continued and even stepped up their campaign against ships in the Red Sea over the past week. On Tuesday, the destroyer USS Gravely shot down a Houthi-launched drone that came within a mile of the vessel. On Wednesday and Thursday, the U.S. launched multiple rounds of self-defense strikes, which were much smaller in scale than Saturday’s attacks, destroying a Houthi surface-to-air missile, a ground control station and 10 drones.
Earlier Saturday, U.S. forces conducted smaller-scale strikes against six Houthi anti-ship cruise missiles preparing to launch in Yemen, according to U.S. Central Command. These strikes were described as self defense because the missiles presented an imminent threat to U.S. Navy ships and merchant vessels in the region.
Also last month, the administration
relisted the Houthis as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist, to pressure the group to stop the attacks. The U.S. removed the Houthis from the list of Specially Designated Global Terrorist and foreign terrorist organizations in February 2021, as the administration sought to get food and humanitarian aid into Yemen.
While this is the third major, pre-planned strike on the Houthis since Jan. 11, the U.S. has conducted several smaller-scale self-defense strikes against Houthi positions in Yemen since then, including two last week.
Alexander Ward contributed to this report.