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March 3, 2024

US and UK Continue Airstrikes Against Houthis After Attacks on Ships in Red Sea

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Jan 24, 2024

The US and UK have conducted further airstrikes against Houthi targets in Yemen after the Iran-backed rebels attacked commercial ships passing through the Red Sea last week. This latest escalation raises tensions in the region and questions around the legality of the strikes without congressional approval.

Timeline of Recent Events

The current crisis began on January 15th when Houthi forces attacked a commercial ship off the coast of Yemen using explosive drones. Additional attacks on January 16th and 17th targeted a Saudi warship and other commercial vessels [1]. In response, the US and UK launched retaliatory strikes starting on January 18th, targeting Houthi missile sites, air defense systems, and other military infrastructure [2][3].

Despite these initial strikes, Houthi attacks on ships continued, including a January 23rd assault on a Turkish cargo ship [4]. As a result, the US and UK have conducted further bombing runs this week, seeking to degrade the Houthis’ ability to threaten shipping lanes [5]. Multiple Houthi air defense sites and ballistic missile platforms were reportedly destroyed [6].

Date Event
Jan 15 Houthis attack commercial ship with drones
Jan 16-17 More Houthi attacks on Saudi warship and commercial vessels
Jan 18 US & UK begin airstrikes on Houthi missile sites in Yemen
Jan 23 Houthis attack Turkish cargo ship
Jan 24 US & UK launch additional strikes targeting Houthi capabilities

Escalating Tensions in the Red Sea

The Houthis are an Iran-backed rebel group that has been fighting Yemen’s internationally recognized government since 2014. They have previously targeted commercial shipping off Yemen’s coast, but the recent spate of attacks in the southern Red Sea marks an escalation [7].

The Red Sea is a vital global shipping lane, with over 10% of world trade passing through its waters every year. The recent instability has endangered this traffic and driven up insurance rates for vessels operating nearby [8]. Some shipowners are already avoiding the area, while the US Navy has deployed additional warships to escort commercial ships [9].

In addition to ships being directly targeted, the Houthis appear to be laying naval mines and sending bomb-laden drone boats out to sea [10]. These asymmetric tactics threaten one of the world’s busiest shipping corridors and a strategically important choke point connecting Europe, Asia and Africa.

Questionable Legality of US Strikes

While the Biden administration has framed its airstrikes as self-defense measures to protect shipping lanes, some US senators and legal experts argue the bombings require explicit congressional authorization [11].

The US has not declared war against Yemen or the Houthis, and supporting the Saudi-led coalition fighting the rebels since 2015 has already been controversial [12]. Recent efforts in Congress sought to limit US military aid over concerns about civilian casualties.

President Biden maintains he has the authority as commander-in-chief to defend US troops and interests from attack. But critics argue the Houthis did not directly threaten the American homeland or soldiers in the operations. They say Biden is continuing an illegal war without proper approval [13].

The administration will likely face increased scrutiny from Congress over its military actions in Yemen following this week’s strikes. Those calling for restraint argue the bombings could spark a wider regional conflict or infringe on Congressional war powers [14].

Background to the Conflict in Yemen

Yemen has been embroiled in civil war since 2014, when the Iran-aligned Houthis seized the capital Sanaa and ousted the internationally recognized government. In 2015, Saudi Arabia formed a coalition to try and dislodge the rebels, with logistical and intelligence support from Western powers like the US and Britain.

What began as an internal power struggle expanded into a regional proxy conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia. It has created one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises, with continuing violence and food shortages pushing Yemen to the brink of famine [15].

Peace efforts have made little progress, as both sides seem determined to push for total military victory rather than compromise. The recent attacks and counter-strikes are the latest flashpoint showing neither party is ready to stand down.

Outlook Going Forward

This week’s targeted strikes sought to degrade the Houthis’ maritime strike capabilities but are unlikely to greatly impact their will or capacity to attack shipping [16]. Missile platforms can potentially be rebuilt, and the group has shown its ability to adapt tactics in response to interdictions before [17].

Unless the military pressure convinces the Houthis that disrupting Red Sea traffic is no longer in their interest, attacks may continue [18]. This risks provoking further retaliation from the US and regional allies.

On the political level, the escalating crisis makes UN-led peace efforts even more difficult. The Houthis already rejected US calls for de-escalation before this week’s strikes [19]. After losing more military assets and infrastructure, the rebels may harden demands and stall negotiations.

Iran has not currently intervened directly but remains the Houthis’ main backer with weapons and resources. If Tehran ramps up support to retaliate for US strikes, Yemen’s civil war could morph into a deadlier regional proxy fight [20]. That may ultimately pull more foreign powers into the conflict.

For now, the Biden administration looks set to continue muscular military enforcement around Yemen while still paying lip service to finding a mediated solution [21]. But absent political reconciliation between the Houthis and Yemen’s government, more deadly skirmishes likely lie ahead.

Sources

[1] https://www.ndtv.com/world-news/ship-attacks-air-strikes-amid-red-sea-crisis-a-timeline-of-recent-events-4916893

[2] https://www.defense.gov/News/News-Stories/Article/Article/3653925/us-partners-continue-pushback-against-iranian-backed-houthi-terrorist-group/

[3] https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/national-security/us-uk-launch-new-strikes-houthi-sites-yemen-rcna135119

[4] https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2024/1/24/us-carries-out-new-strikes-on-houthi-missiles-in-yemen-iraq-sites

[5] https://www.voanews.com/a/us-uk-launch-more-strikes-targeting-weapons-in-houthi-controlled-yemen/7451154.html

[6] https://www.centcom.mil/MEDIA/PRESS-RELEASES/Press-Release-View/Article/3652569/us-forces-allies-conduct-joint-strikes-in-yemen/

[7] https://www.euronews.com/2024/01/23/who-are-yemens-houthi-rebels-who-are-attacking-red-sea-ships

[8] https://www.ft.com/content/36bb6d7f-59e3-4ebb-9a47-cf5d7c8aeb34

[9] https://news.usni.org/2024/01/19/u-s-strikes-more-houthi-missile-sites-in-yemen

[10] https://www.businessinsider.com/us-shooting-houthi-missiles-before-they-get-off-the-ground-2024-1

[11] https://www.defensenews.com/congress/2024/01/24/senators-question-legality-of-bidens-houthi-strikes-in-yemen/

[12] https://www.thenation.com/article/politics/biden-war-powers-congress-yemen/

[13] https://truthout.org/articles/bidens-illegal-bombing-of-yemen-intensifies-the-risk-of-regional-war/

[14] https://foreignpolicy.com/2024/01/20/biden-congress-war-powers-yemen-houthi/

[15] https://www.npr.org/transcripts/1226222496

[16] https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2024-01-22/us-uk-airstrikes-hit-houthi-underground-target-in-yemen

[17] https://responsiblestatecraft.org/houthis-yemen/

[18] https://www.cnbc.com/2024/01/19/red-sea-attacks-biden-admits-airstrikes-on-houthis-arent-working.html

[19] https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/2024/01/20/us-military-yemen-houthis/

[20] https://www.jpost.com/breaking-news/article-783421

[21] https://www.nytimes.com/2024/01/24/us/politics/houthis-red-sea-airstrikes.html

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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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