U.S., allies launch large-scale strike against Iran-backed Houthi rebels

By Ehren Wynder & Darryl Coote
A British Royal Air Force Typhoon aircraft takes off from RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus to join the U.S.-led coalition to conduct airstrikes against military targets in Yemen on Thursday. Photo courtesy of U.K. Ministry of Defense/UPI
1 of 9 | A British Royal Air Force Typhoon aircraft takes off from RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus to join the U.S.-led coalition to conduct airstrikes against military targets in Yemen on Thursday. Photo courtesy of U.K. Ministry of Defense/UPI | License Photo

Jan. 11 (UPI) -- In a major shift, the United States and its allies conducted a full, large-scale retaliation against recent Houthi attacks in the Red Sea late Thursday.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said the militaries of the United States and Britain struck targets in Iran-backed Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen. Sites linked to the Houthis' unmanned aerial vehicles, ballistic and cruise missiles and coastal radar and air surveillance capabilities were targets, he said.


"This action is intended to disrupt and degrade the Houthis' capabilities to endanger mariners and threaten global trade in one of the world's most critical waterways," Austin said in a statement, adding that the airstrikes were conducted with support of the militaries of Australia, Bahrain, Canada and the Netherlands.

"Today's coalition action sends a clear message to the Houthis that they will bear further costs if they do not end their illegal attacks," Austin said.


U.S. Central Command said late Thursday that the strikes were conducted at 2:30 a.m. local time.

The strikes follow three U.S. destroyers, along with U.S. F-18s and a British warship on Tuesday shooting down 18 drones and multiple missiles launched from Houthi-controlled bases in Yemen in retaliation for one of the rebel group's largest attacks.

There were no ships damaged in the attack and no injuries reported.

U.S. President Joe Biden said in a statement the strike was a "defensive action" after repeated warnings to the rebel group and was ordered at his direction.

"These strikes are in direct response to unprecedented Houthi attacks against international maritime vessels in the Red Sea -- including the use of anti-ship ballistic missiles for the first time in history," Biden said. "These attacks have endangered U.S. personnel, civilian mariners and our partners, jeopardized trade and threatened freedom of navigation."


British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak also issued a statement, saying the Houthi's repeated attacks in the Red Sea, including those against U.S. and British war ships, "cannot stand."

"The United Kingdom will always stand up for freedom of navigation and the free flow of trade," Sunak said. "We have, therefore, taken limited, necessary and proportionate action in self-defense."

In the tension leading up to Thursday's strike, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday had told reporters during a press conference while in Bahrain that "there will be consequences" following the most recent Houthi attack. Blinken is scheduled to wrap up his fourth tour of the Middle East amid Israel's war with Hamas and fears of growing hostilities in the region.

Moments before Thursday's attack, Houthi rebel leader Abdul-Malik al-Houthi told the United States and its allies that the Houthis would fight back if struck, and the response, he said, will be greater than the attack the group orchestrated Tuesday.

"We are more determined to target ships linked to Israel, and we will not back down from that," al-Houthi said, adding the group's only targets are ships linked to Israel, and any other commercial vessels can pass through the Red Sea unbothered.


U.S. national security adviser John Kirby offered few details in the hours leading up to the attack. In a White House press conference Thursday afternoon, Kirby refused to speculate about potential military operations, but said the Houthis need to stop their attacks or face consequences.

"I'm not going to telegraph punches one way or another here," Kirby told reporters. "We're going to do what we have to do to counter and defeat these threats that the Houthis keep throwing up on commercial shipping in the Red Sea."

Houthis have launched at least 27 attacks on commercial shipping vessels in the Red Sea since Nov. 19, the U.S. Central Command said. Thursday's strike was the first the United States and its allies carried out since the Houthis began their attacks in November.

Although the United States has carried out proxy strikes against Iranian targets to avoid escalation in the region, Thursday marked the first direct strike against the Houthis in Yemen. The United States had made a point to play up its patience and lack of military retaliation in the region, despite dozens of attacks on U.S. and allied targets in and around the Red Sea.

The Biden administration had long been hesitant about striking the Houthis, fearing such action could break a delicate cease-fire between the rebel group and Saudi Arabia.


But the Houthi's continued attacks have had a severe impact on trade. According to one U.N. official, at least 18 shipping companies have rerouted their vessels around South Africa, adding 10 days to their trips, to avoid the Red Sea.

The Pentagon also said 55 nations have direct connections to the ships that have been attacked.

Biden said Thursday that more than 2,000 ships have been diverted to avoid the Red Sea.

Located in Yemen, the Houthi rebels have been waging a civil war for roughly a decade against the internationally recognized government of Yemen, which is supported by the Saudi-led coalition forces.

Since the war between Hamas and Israel began on Oct. 7, the Houthis have repeatedly attacked civilian infrastructure in Israel and commercial shipping vessels in the Red Sea.

The Houthis have vowed to target all Israel-bound ships over Israel's war in the Palestinian enclave but has since expanded its scope seemingly to all ships.

Amid the escalating attacks, the United States cobbled together a coalition of more than 20 nations to protect the important international shipping lane that accounts for between 10% and 15% of global trade. The U.S. Central Command said the attacks Thursday are separate from Operation Prosperity Guardian.


"Their illegal and dangerous actions will not be tolerated, and they will be held accountable," Gen. Michael Erik Kurilla, CENTCOM commander, said late Thursday in a statement.

On Jan. 3, the United States and a dozen other nations warned the Houthis in a statement that they would be held accountable for their continued attacks on shipping vessels.

On Wednesday, the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution demanding the Iran proxies cease their attacks.

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