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US,UK Strike Houthis After Attack Surge02/26 06:20


   WASHINGTON (AP) -- The U.S. and Britain struck 18 Houthi targets in Yemen, 
answering a recent surge in attacks by the Iran-backed militia group on ships 
in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, including a missile strike this past week that 
set fire to a cargo vessel.

   According to U.S. officials, American and British fighter jets on Saturday 
hit sites in eight locations, targeting missiles, launchers, rockets, drones 
and air defense systems. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity in order 
to provide early details of an ongoing military operation.

   This is the fourth time that the U.S. and British militaries have conducted 
a combined operation against the Houthis since Jan. 12. But the U.S. has also 
been carrying out almost daily strikes to take out Houthi targets, including 
incoming missiles and drones aimed at ships, as well as weapons that were 
prepared to launch.

   The U.S. F/A-18 fighter jets launched from the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower 
aircraft carrier, which is currently in the Red Sea, officials said.

   "The United States will not hesitate to take action, as needed, to defend 
lives and the free flow of commerce in one of the world's most critical 
waterways," said U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. "We will continue to make 
clear to the Houthis that they will bear the consequences if they do not stop 
their illegal attacks."

   The Houthis denounced the "US-British aggression" and vowed to keep up its 
military operation in response. "The Yemeni Armed Forces affirm that they will 
confront the US-British escalation with more qualitative military operations 
against all hostile targets in the Red and Arabian Seas in defense of our 
country, our people and our nation," it said in a statement.

   The Houthis-run media reported that a man was killed and six of his family 
were wounded in Maqbanah district in Taiz province.

   The U.S., U.K., and other allies said in a statement the "necessary and 
proportionate strikes specifically targeted 18 Houthi targets across 8 
locations in Yemen" that also included underground storage facilities, radar 
and a helicopter.

   U.K. Defense Secretary Grant Shapps said RAF Typhoon jets engaged in 
"precision strikes" aimed at degrading Houthi drones and launchers. Shapps said 
it came after "severe Houthi attacks against commercial ships in the Red Sea 
and Gulf of Aden, including against the British-owned MV Islander and the MV 
Rubymar, which forced the crew to abandon ship." It's the fourth time Britain 
has joined in the U.S.-led strikes.

   The strikes have support from the wider coalition, which includes Australia, 
Bahrain, Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands and New Zealand.

   President Joe Biden and other senior leaders have repeatedly warned that the 
U.S. won't tolerate the Houthi attacks against commercial shipping. But the 
counterattacks haven't appeared to diminish the Houthis' campaign against 
shipping in the region, which the militants say is over Israel's war against 
Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

   "Our aim remains to de-escalate tensions and restore stability in the Red 
Sea, but we will once again reiterate our warning to Houthi leadership: we will 
not hesitate to continue to defend lives and the free flow of commerce in the 
face of continued threats," said the Saturday statement.

   The Houthis have launched at least 57 attacks on commercial and military 
ships in the the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden since Nov. 19, and the pace has 
picked up in recent days.

   "We've certainly seen in the past 48, 72 hours an increase in attacks from 
the Houthis," Pentagon spokeswoman Sabrina Singh said in a briefing Thursday. 
And she acknowledged that the Houthis have not been deterred.

   "We never said we've wiped off the map all of their capabilities," she told 
reporters. "We know that the Houthis maintain a large arsenal. They are very 
capable. They have sophisticated weapons, and that's because they continue to 
get them from Iran."

   There have been at least 32 U.S. strikes in Yemen over the past month and a 
half; a few were conducted with allied involvement. In addition, U.S. warships 
have taken out dozens of incoming missiles, rockets and drones targeting 
commercial and other Navy vessels.

   Earlier Saturday, the destroyer USS Mason downed an anti-ship ballistic 
missile launched from Houthi-held areas in Yemen toward the Gulf of Aden, U.S. 
Central Command said, adding that the missile was likely targeting MV Torm 
Thor, a U.S.-Flagged, owned, and operated chemical and oil tanker.

   The U.S. attacks on the Houthis have targeted more than 120 launchers, more 
than 10 surface-to-air-missiles, 40 storage and support building, 15 drone 
storage building, more than 20 unmanned air, surface and underwater vehicles, 
several underground storage areas and a few other facilities.

   The rebels' supreme leader, Abdul Malik al-Houthi, announced this past week 
an "escalation in sea operations" conducted by his forces as part of what they 
describe as a pressure campaign to end Israel's war on Hamas.

   But while the group says the attacks are aimed at stopping that war, the 
Houthis' targets have grown more random, endangering a vital waterway for cargo 
and energy shipments traveling from Asia and the Middle East onward to Europe.

   During normal operations, about 400 commercial vessels transit the southern 
Red Sea at any given time. While the Houthi attacks have only actually struck a 
small number of vessels, the persistent targeting and near misses that have 
been shot down by the U.S. and allies have prompted shipping companies to 
reroute their vessels from the Red Sea.

   Instead, they have sent them around Africa through the Cape of Good Hope -- 
a much longer, costlier and less efficient passage. The threats also have led 
the U.S. and its allies to set up a joint mission where warships from 
participating nations provide a protective umbrella of air defense for ships as 
they travel between the Suez Canal and the Bab el-Mandeb Strait.

   In Thursday's attack in the Gulf of Aden, the Houthis fired two missiles at 
a Palau-flagged cargo ship named Islander, according to Central Command said. A 
European naval force in the region said the attack sparked a fire and wounded a 
sailor on board the vessel, though the ship continued on its way.

   Central Command launched attacks on Houthi-held areas in Yemen on Friday, 
destroying seven mobile anti-ship cruise missiles that the military said were 
prepared to launch toward the Red Sea.

   Central Command also said Saturday that a Houthi attack on a Belize-flagged 
ship on Feb. 18 caused an 18-mile (29-kilometer) oil slick and the. military 
warned of the danger of a spill from the vessel's cargo of fertilizer. The 
Rubymar, a British-registered, Lebanese-operated cargo vessel, was attacked 
while sailing through the Bab el-Mandeb Strait that connects the Red Sea and 
the Gulf of Aden.

   The missile attack forced the crew to abandon the vessel, which had been on 
its way to Bulgaria after leaving Khorfakkan in the United Arab Emirates. It 
was transporting more than 41,000 tons of fertilizer, according to a Central 
Command statement.

   The Associated Press, relying on satellite images from Planet Labs PBC of 
the stricken vessel, reported Tuesday that the vessel was leaking oil in the 
Red Sea.

   Yemen's internationally recognized government on Saturday called for other 
countries and maritime-protection organizations to quickly address the oil 
slick and avert "a significant environmental disaster.

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