The US Navy has intercepted several missiles fired by Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen targeting a commercial cargo ship sailing under a US flag in the Red Sea on January 24th, 2024. This latest attack comes amidst renewed clashes between the Houthis and forces backed by the US and allies in the region.
Background of the Conflict
The Houthis are a rebel group from northern Yemen who overthrew the internationally recognized government in 2014 and have been at war with a Saudi-led coalition backing that government since 2015. The civil war has killed tens of thousands of people and caused the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
Yemen lies along the southern end of the Red Sea, a vital shipping lane leading to the Suez Canal. The Houthis have frequently attacked ships in the Red Sea with drone and missile strikes. Last week, they attacked a oil tanker off the Yemeni port of Hodeidah.
The US and its allies have conducted sporadic airstrikes against the Houthis when they attack shipping lanes or launch long-range strikes across the Saudi border. But these strikes have done little to deter the Houthis or bring the parties closer to negotiations.
Missile Attack on US-Flagged Cargo Ship
On January 24th, two cargo ships owned by Danish shipping giant Maersk were sailing through the Red Sea off the coast of Yemen when multiple explosions rocked the water.
The ships — the Maersk Shanghai and Pittsburgh — quickly changed course while the US Navy guided missile destroyer USS Gravely and the Royal Navy frigate HMS Montrose moved to intercept.
|Marshall Islands (US)
According to a statement from the UK Ministry of Defense, HMS Montrose detected incoming missiles using its radar and launched its own missiles to intercept, destroying two inbound projectiles.
Meanwhile, the USS Gravely detected and destroyed two ballistic missiles using SM-2 interceptors. Both cargo ships escaped without damage.
US and Allies Retaliate With Airstrikes
In response to these attacks, the US military launched retaliatory strikes against Houthi missile and drone sites in Sanaa, Yemen’s rebel-held capital. The UK and other allies also participated in the bombing raids.
The retaliatory strikes are meant to degrade the Houthis’ capability to threaten ships in the region. But previous similar actions have failed to deter the Houthis or substantially diminish their arsenal.
Outlook and Analysis
With the Houthis continuing to aggressively attack ships in the Red Sea, tensions between them, the US, Saudi Arabia and allies continue escalating. The rebel group seems intent on disrupting naval traffic around Yemen regardless of US shows of force.
Meanwhile, the stalemated civil war in Yemen rages on after nearly 10 years with no political resolution in sight. The Houthis still control the capital Sanaa and northern Yemen. Saudi airstrikes have devastated infrastructure but failed to budge the frontlines. The Yemeni people continue suffering enormously from the conflict.
Despite US and allied interests in protecting shipping lanes around Yemen, experts argue that continued bombing of the Houthis risks triggering a larger regional war and aggravating Yemen’s humanitarian crisis. More diplomatic and non-military approaches may prove more prudent.
The US Congress has also raised concerns about Biden’s legal authority to conduct strikes against the Houthis without Congressional approval. Questions remain whether clashes with the Houthis require a new Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) or if existing AUMFs apply.
This breaking news story will be updated as more details emerge about the attempted Houthi attack on the Maersk cargo ships and the US response. The situation remains tense as the Houthis threaten further strikes and the US and allies warn of more retaliation.
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