US, UK step up strikes on Houthis

The U.S. and United Kingdom conducted another round of large-scale air and missile strikes on Houthi militant targets across Yemen on Monday, according to the Pentagon.

At approximately 11:59 p.m. local time, U.S. and U.K ships and warplanes took “proportionate and necessary strikes” against eight Houthi targets in Yemen, including an underground weapons storage site, missile systems and launchers, and air defense and surveillance capabilities, according to a joint statement.

Some of the eight locations included multiple targets, with the strike destroying missiles, drones and weapons storage areas, a senior military official later told reporters.

“At this point we do assess that the strike was successful and achieved the desired effect of removing these capabilities from the Houthis,” they said.

The bombings — supported by U.S. allies Australia, Bahrain, Canada and the Netherlands — mark an increase in action against the Iran-backed group, who have vowed to continue attacks on ships in the Red Sea in protest of Israel’s military campaign in the Gaza Strip.

The U.S. last paired with the U.K. on preemptive strikes against the Houthis on Jan. 11, after the group disregarded multiple warnings by Western nations to stop continued drone and missile attacks on commercial vessels in the waterway.

The group has attacked at least 33 such ships since Nov. 19 – including several American-flagged vessels – prompting more than 14 shipping companies to cease operations in the Red Sea, disrupting international shipping.

And earlier Monday, the Houthis claimed to have attacked a U.S. military cargo ship, Ocean Jazz, in the Gulf of Aden. The U.S. denies the claim.

This most recent U.S. strike is smaller than the one earlier this month – with the first American and British bombings hitting more than 60 targets across 30 sites in Yemen – but it signals that Washington will maintain an open-ended campaign against the Houthis.

“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 our coalition strikes on January 11,” according to the joint statement.

Washington on its own also launched six rounds of strikes – nearly every day last week – but those were more limited, targeting individual Houthi missiles before they could be aimed at ships.

The entire effort, however, has failed to stop the group from continued drone and missile attacks on commercial vessels in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, with President Biden last week acknowledging the tit-for-tat would continue.

“Are they stopping the Houthis? No,” Biden said Jan. 18 when asked about the U.S. deterrence effort. “Are they going to continue? Yes.”

Careful to avoid a wider regional conflict, the Biden administration has maintained that the strikes are in self-defense and do not indicate a move toward war.

“These strikes, while necessary, do not indicate a shift in our approach to the region,” a senior defense official told reporters. “We remain committed to the rules-based international order and will defend ourselves as needed.”

Updated at 7:24 pm.

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