The U.S. military launched a fifth round of strikes on Houthi weaponry in Yemen on Thursday, targeting antiship missiles aimed at the Red Sea hours after firing an earlier barrage, as rising tensions across the region threaten to pull more parties into a widening war.
The U.S. said the strikes hit over a dozen Houthi missiles that were loaded to be fired. A Pentagon official said it estimates that about a fourth of the Houthi arsenal has now been destroyed.
“These strikes, along with other actions we have taken, will degrade the Houthis’ capabilities to continue their reckless attacks on international and commercial shipping in the Red Sea, the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait, and the Gulf of Aden,” U.S. Central Command said Thursday.
President Biden said Thursday that the U.S. would continue to target Houthi weaponry until the group ceases its attacks on shipping vessels, after being asked whether the strikes were working. “Are they stopping the Houthis? No. Are they going to continue? Yes,” he said.
Gene Moran, a retired U.S. Navy captain, said the U.S. strike is focusing on taking out Houthi capabilities on shore before they are used. “It’s much more effective to shoot the archer ashore as opposed to shooting down all the arrows,” Moran said, adding that he expects similar actions as the regional conflict continues.
The U.S. strikes come as the Houthi rebels, an Iranian-backed militia that controls swaths of Yemeni land facing the Red Sea, have fired at and seized ships crossing through the narrow strait between Yemen and eastern Africa, headed to or from Egypt’s Suez Canal, a heavily-used freight shipping route.
The Houthis have said their targeting of ships is in response to Israel’s actions in its war with Hamas in Gaza. The Houthi strikes have snarled global shipping, leading to longer shipping routes avoiding the Red Sea and higher costs.
The leader of the Houthis, Abdul-Malik al-Houthi, said in a televised speech that the U.S. strikes wouldn’t deter the group from continuing its attacks on ships and confronting the U.S.
A U.S.-owned bulk carrier called Genco Picardy came under attack for the second day in the Gulf of Aden on Thursday, according to security consulting firm Neptune. A tanker that was carrying Saudi gasoline to Kuwait also was attacked in the same area, it said. The Houthis said in a statement that its forces had successfully struck an American ship with missiles. The condition of the ships couldn’t be determined.
The U.S. State Department this week said it would designate the Houthis as a terrorist organization, reversing the administration’s 2021 removal of the group from the U.S.’s terrorist list. “The ultimate goal of sanctions is to convince the Houthis to de-escalate and bring about a positive change in behavior. If the Houthis cease their attacks, we can consider delisting this designation,” a senior U.S. official said.
International analysts say that while the U.S. strikes are intended to be a deterrent, they could achieve the opposite effect, emboldening the Houthis.
Vali Nasr, a former State Department official and dean of the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, said the U.S. is on a path for ending up in a war in Yemen.
“Blood has been drawn, the scale of attacks is there, the Houthis are not going to back down now,” he said.
The Genco Picardy, a U.S.-owned vessel, was hit Wednesday in a drone strike claimed by Yemen’s Houthis. PHOTO: INDIAN NAVY/ASSOCIATED PRESS
A senior U.S. official said that despite warnings and diplomatic engagement, the Houthis have continued their attacks, including on American vessels.
“Our goal is to continue to make clear the United States is going to protect freedom of navigation, protect our personnel, protect civilians from terrorist attacks in international waters,” said the official. “I think you’ll continue to see us think about the tools in our tool kit and deploy them in a way that is well-synced and coordinated across the sanctions, military and diplomatic space.”
Last month, the U.S., alongside several of its allies including the U.K., Bahrain and Canada, unveiled a naval force intended to protect merchant vessels in the Red Sea in response to Houthi attacks.
Martin Griffiths, the former United Nations special envoy for Yemen who now serves as the U.N.’s undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency-relief coordinator, told CNN earlier this week that the escalation in the Red Sea was jeopardizing promising efforts to end the civil war in Yemen.
Yemen, he said, “was one of those few, perhaps the only place in the world where we all had some hopes of real peace after six or seven years of terrible war, and that is being snatched away from us by these circumstances.”
Shipping through the Red Sea has become perilous following strikes by Houthis. PHOTO: LUKE DRAY/GETTY IMAGES
—Stephen Kalin, Costas Paris, Sabrina Siddiqui, Saleh al-Batati and Benoit Faucon contributed to this article.