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US invites India to join naval coalition in Red Sea

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NEW DELHI : The US has invited India to join the multi-national naval coalition, Operation Prosperity Guardian, to counter threats posed by Yemen’s Houthi militants in the Red Sea, according to persons aware of the matter.

This coalition, under the Combined Maritime Forces, seeks to ensure maritime security and protect global shipping routes, which Houthi attacks have increasingly targeted.

The Houthi attacks on vessels passing through the Red Sea route since November have forced shipping companies to avoid the vital trade route. Two India-linked vessels, MV Chem Pluto and MV Sai Baba, were also been targeted by drone strikes in late December.

US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin had said Operation Prosperity Guardian will involve countries like the UK, Bahrain, Canada, France, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Seychelles and Spain.

More than 40 countries have joined the United States in condemning the Houthis’ attacks, but more global action is needed, a US embassy spokesperson in response to a query.

“We welcome other countries, including India, in joining us to defend the freedom of navigation in the region’s vital waterways, including by participating in Operation Prosperity Guardian,” they added. 

However, the embassy did not comment on the specific deliberations between India and the US on the matter.

“We have a vested interest and have been supportive of the free movement of commercial shipping. That is something we’re interested in. …I think there was some communication regarding this task force,” said Mr. Arindam Bagchi, the then-MEA official spokesperson, in December.

While India is a member of the Combined Maritime Forces (CMF), it has been cautious about accepting the US invitation to join Operation Prosperity Guardian. Like France and Italy, India has preferred to maintain a separate naval presence in the region rather than join a US-led maritime coalition to combat the Houthi attacks. 

There is a possibility that India may be concerned about the prospect of an escalation in hostilities following the counterattack by US naval forces, experts said.

In response to attacks on shipping vessels near Indian coasts, the Indian Navy enhanced maritime surveillance in the Arabian Sea and deployed destroyers and frigates to ensure security in the area.

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