Washington: The United States military struck down at least ten Houthi unmanned drones in Yemen that were prepared for launch, an official said on Wednesday amid escalating tensions in the Middle East from the Israel-Hamas war. US Navy ship USS Carney shot down three Iranian drones and a Houthi anti-ship ballistic missile in the Gulf of Aden, according to the US Central Command.
“On Feb. I at approximately 1:30 a.m., (Sanaa time), US Central Command forces conducted strikes against an Iranian-backed Houthi UAV ground control station and 10 Houthi one-way UAVs. US forces identified the UAV ground control station and one-way attack UAVs in Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen and determined that they presented an imminent threat to merchant vessels and the US Navy ships in the region,” said the military.
No injuries were reported when the USS Carney shot down three drones and the ballistic missiles launched by the Houthis, said the Central Command. The Iran-aligned Houthis have launched a wave of exploding drones and missiles at commercial vessels in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden in recent weeks, calling it a response to Israel’s military operations in Gaza and a show of solidarity with Palestinians.
The Houthis, earlier on Wednesday, said their naval forces carried out an operation targeting an “American merchant ship” in the Gulf of Aden hours after firing missiles at the US Navy destroyer Gravely. The private security firm Ambrey reported on Wednesday that a ship was targeted with a missile southwest of Aden, Yemen, near the Bab el-Mandeb Strait between the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. The Houthis claimed an attack on a vessel at the time called the Koi, a Liberian-flagged container ship.
Houthi military spokesman Yahya Saree claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement on USS Gravely on Wednesday morning, calling it “a victory for the oppression of the Palestinian people and a response to the American-British aggression against our country.”
Since November, the rebels have repeatedly targeted ships in the Red Sea over Israel’s offensive against Hamas in Gaza. But they have frequently targeted vessels with tenuous or no clear links to Israel, imperiling shipping in a key route for global trade between Asia, the Mideast and Europe.
Houthi attacks escalate
Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthis have stepped up their attacks on commercial vessels transiting the Red Sea, as one of their missile strikes hit a British-operated fuel tanker in the Gulf of Aden last week, causing a fire. The tanker Marlin Luanda operated on behalf of the trading firm Trafigura, and was carrying Russian naphtha along the Red Sea before being attacked.
Since the airstrike campaign began, the rebels now say they’ll target American and British ships as well. On Wednesday, two American-flagged ships carrying cargo for the US Defense and State departments came under attack by the Houthis, forcing an escorting US Navy warship to shoot some of the projectiles down.
The Houthi attacks have disrupted international shipping, causing some companies to suspend transits through the Red Sea and use the much longer and costlier journey through Africa. Currently, 10-15 per cent of global trade passes through the Red Sea, and international shipping companies are having to reroute through the Cape of Good Hope, adding weeks to the delivery of key goods and materials, including oil and gas.
The US and the United Kingdom have launched multiple rounds of airstrikes targeting the Houthis as allied warships patrol the waterways affected by the attacks. The European Union also plans to launch a naval mission in the Red Sea within three weeks to help defend cargo ships against the Houthi attacks, the bloc’s top diplomat said Wednesday.
US President Joe Biden said earlier in January that strikes on Houthi targets would continue even as he acknowledged they may not be halting their attacks. The confrontation risks an expansion of the conflict beyond Hamas-governed Gaza, where the local health ministry says nearly 27,000 people have been killed in Israel’s assault.
Iran’s threats to the US
Iran on Wednesday threatened to decisively respond” to any US attack on the Islamic Republic following Biden’s promises of ‘revenge’ after a drone attack in Jordan this week that killed three US troops. The US has signalled it is preparing for retaliatory strikes in the Mideast in the wake of the Sunday drone attack that also injured at least 40 troops at Tower 22, a secretive base in northeastern Jordan that’s been crucial to the American presence in neighbouring Syria.
However, concerns remain that any additional American strikes could further inflame a region already roiled by Israel’s ongoing war on Hamas in the Gaza Strip and the ongoing attacks by Yemen’s Houthi rebels on shipping in the Red Sea. The US has blamed the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, an umbrella organisation for Iran-backed militia, for the Jordan strike.
As of Wednesday, Kataib Hezbollah and other Iran-aligned militias had launched 166 attacks on US military installations since October 18, including 67 in Iraq, 98 in Syria and the one in Jordan, according to the US military. The US has struck back at the militias a few times over the past three months in Iraq and Syria.
(with inputs from agencies)