YEMEN : The US military conducted strikes on a Houthi-controlled site in Yemen early on Saturday, which it deemed a threat to commercial vessels in the Red Sea, according to two anonymous US officials. Associated Press journalists in Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, reported hearing a loud explosion.
On Friday, the first day of strikes, 28 locations were targeted, hitting over 60 targets.
Despite this, the US determined that a radar site posed a continued threat to maritime traffic.
Biden warned of more strikes if Red Sea attacks persist
President Joe Biden had previously warned of further strikes against the Houthis. The latest strike comes after the US Navy cautioned American-flagged vessels to avoid Yemen’s Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden for the next 72 hours following airstrikes by the US and Britain on Houthi rebels. The Houthis have vowed to retaliate, raising the potential for a broader conflict in a region already grappling with Israel’s war in Gaza.
The US military and White House officials anticipate that the Houthis will attempt to strike back. The recent US-led bombardment was in response to a series of drone and missile attacks on commercial ships in the strategically important Red Sea. The Houthis claim the strikes killed at least five people and injured six. The US said the strikes targeted locations across Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen, hitting weapons, radar, and targeting sites, including remote mountain areas. President Biden, during his visit to Pennsylvania, stated that the US would respond to the Houthis’ “outrageous behavior” alongside its allies. When asked if he considered the Houthis a terrorist group, Biden responded affirmatively, stating that he believed they were.
Biden also defended his decision to carry out the strikes without seeking congressional authorization, rebutting criticism from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. The Pentagon stated that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin ordered the military action from the hospital where he is recuperating from complications following prostate cancer surgery. In November, the White House revealed it was considering redesignating the Houthis as a terrorist organization after their attacks on civilian vessels. However, the administration subsequently removed the “foreign terrorist organization” and “specially designated global terrorists” labels in 2021, reversing a move made by former President Donald Trump.
Lt. Gen. Douglas Sims, director of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, assured that the strikes primarily targeted sparsely populated areas, implying that the number of casualties would not be significant. The strikes hit weapons, radar, and targeting sites, including those in remote mountainous regions. The bombings have once again brought attention to Yemen’s protracted conflict that began when the Houthis seized the country’s capital. Since November, the rebels have repeatedly targeted ships in the Red Sea, claiming to avenge Israel’s offensive against Hamas in Gaza. However, they have often attacked vessels with tenuous or no clear links to Israel, endangering shipping in a crucial trade and energy route.
Brig. Gen. Yahya Saree, the Houthis’ military spokesperson, warned that the US strikes would not go unanswered or unpunished. Representative Elissa Slotkin, a former US intelligence official, praised the strikes but expressed concerns about Iran’s intentions to escalate the conflict. Slotkin emphasized that Iran employs groups like the Houthis to fight its battles and maintain plausible deniability to avoid direct conflict with the US and other nations. Biden assured reporters that Iran had received a clear message and knew not to take any action.
Despite efforts by the Biden administration and its allies to ease tensions in the Middle East and prevent a wider conflict, the strikes have the potential to ignite a regional confrontation. Saudi Arabia, which supports Yemen’s exiled government in its fight against the Houthis, swiftly distanced itself from the attacks as it seeks to maintain a delicate detente with Iran and the ongoing ceasefire in Yemen. The Saudi-led, US-backed war in Yemen has resulted in the deaths of over 150,000 people, including combatants and civilians, and has caused one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises.
The extent of the damage from the strikes on Friday remains unclear, although the Houthis claimed that at least five sites, including airfields, were targeted. The US military is still assessing the impact on the militants’ capabilities. The strikes conducted by the US Air Forces Central Command focused on Houthi command and control centers, munition depots, launching systems, production facilities, and air defense radar systems. The operation involved over 150 precision-guided munitions, including air-launched missiles from F/A-18 Super Hornets stationed on the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Tomahawk missiles launched from the Navy destroyers USS Gravely and USS Mason, the Navy cruiser USS Philippine Sea, and a US submarine. The United Kingdom reported that the strikes hit a site in Bani reportedly used by the Houthis to launch drones, as well as an airfield in Abbs used for launching cruise missiles and drones.
In a separate development, the US Treasury Department imposed sanctions on two firms in Hong Kong and the United Arab Emirates for allegedly shipping Iranian commodities on behalf of Houthi financial facilitator Sa’id al-Jamal. Four vessels owned by these companies were also identified as blocked property. Iran released footage of its seizure of an oil tanker in the Gulf of Oman, which had previously been at the center of a dispute between Tehran and Washington. The vessel, formerly known as the Suez Rajan, was seized by Iran’s navy on Thursday. Last year, the US seized 1 million barrels of Iranian oil from the vessel.
Houthi official Hussein al-Ezzi warned that the US and Britain would pay a heavy price and face dire consequences for their “blatant aggression.” Attacks in the Red Sea have caused significant disruptions to global trade, with benchmark Brent crude oil prices rising around 4% to over $80 a barrel. Tesla announced the temporary suspension of most production at its German factory due to the attacks in the Red Sea.
In Yemen, hundreds gathered for a rally in Saada, the Houthis’ stronghold, denouncing the US and Israel. Thousands more attended a rally in the capital, Sanaa. The Houthis now control territory inhabited by approximately two-thirds of Yemen’s population of 34 million. The ongoing conflict and mismanagement have made Yemen one of the poorest countries in the Arab world, with the majority of its population considered food-insecure by the World Food Program.
Yemen has been the target of US military action under the last four US presidencies. Drone strikes were initiated under President George W. Bush to target the local al-Qaida affiliate, and these attacks have continued under President Biden. Additionally, the US has conducted raids and other military operations during the Yemeni war.
The conflict began when the Houthis seized Sanaa in 2014. A Saudi-led coalition, supported by the United Arab Emirates, intervened in 2015 to back Yemen’s exiled government, transforming the conflict into a regional confrontation as Iran provided weapons and other support to the Houthis.
While the conflict has somewhat stalled, with the Houthis maintaining control over their territory, Saudi Arabia reached a deal mediated by China in March to resume relations with Iran, aiming to eventually withdraw from the war. Iran criticized Friday’s attack, warning that arbitrary strikes would only exacerbate insecurity and instability in the region. China’s Foreign Ministry called on nations to avoid escalating tensions in the Red Sea, while Russia condemned the strikes as illegitimate under international law.