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May 29, 2024

US Strikes Houthis Again Amid Ongoing Tensions

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Jan 18, 2024

The US military has carried out additional strikes targeting Houthi rebels in Yemen this week, amid escalating attacks against commercial shipping in the Red Sea. This latest action marks the fourth round of strikes in under a week, as the Biden administration attempts to deter further Houthi aggression.

Background on the Houthis

The Houthis are an Iranian-backed rebel group that has been fighting the internationally recognized government in Yemen since 2014, when they seized the capital Sanaa.

  • The Houthis originated as a Zaidi Shia revivalist political movement in the 1990s.
  • Their official name is Ansar Allah (“Supporters of God”).
  • They took their unofficial name from their founder Hussein Badr al-Din al-Houthi.
  • They champion Yemen’s Zaidi Shia minority and have long complained of marginalization.
  • Since 2014, they have been locked in conflict with Yemen’s Saudi Arabia-backed government.

Over the years, the Houthis have received financial and military support from Iran, allowing them to make major battlefield gains despite fighting against a Saudi-led coalition since 2015. They now control much of northern Yemen, including major population centers like Sanaa.

The civil war in Yemen has created one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises, pushing the country to the brink of famine. However, after years of stalemate, the conflict saw major shifts in 2022. The Houthis captured the key city of Marib in 2022 after a year-long offensive. This solidified their control over Yemen’s north and energy resources.

Recent Attacks Against Commercial Shipping

Tensions sharply escalated in early January 2023, when the Houthis seized an Emirati-flagged cargo vessel passing through the Red Sea. They held the ship and crew for several days before releasing them.

On January 16th, the Houthis struck a supertanker south of the Yemeni port of Hodeidah using an unmanned drone boat packed with explosives. The Singapore-flagged vessel suffered a fire but there was no major damage or oil spill.

Vessel Date of Attack Details of Attack
Emirati-flagged cargo ship Early January 2023 Seized by Houthis, held for several days
Singapore-flagged supertanker January 16, 2023 Struck by Houthi explosive drone boat, caused fire

These attacks were part of a Houthi effort to pressure the Saudi-led coalition fighting them in Yemen’s civil war. However, they negatively impacted world trade and energy supplies transiting the critical Bab al-Mandab Strait.

The US and UK responded on January 12th by sanctioning Houthi leaders. But attacks continued.

On January 17th, an American-owned cargo carrier was damaged by a drone strike off the coast of Yemen. This marked the third attack in under two weeks targeting vessels related to US interests. It was seen as a serious escalation by the Houthis.

Shortly after, CENTCOM commander Gen. Erik Kurilla vowed the US would not tolerate threats to freedom of navigation. This foreshadowed direct US military action.

US and Allies Launch Strikes Against Houthis

On January 18th, the US military announced it had struck Houthi missile launch sites in Yemen which posed an imminent threat to Red Sea shipping.

  • The strikes used a combination of fighter jets and armed Reaper drones
  • 14 Houthi missiles across 3 remote locations were destroyed
  • Sites were west of rebel-held Sanaa and near the port of Hodeidah

UK forces also assisted with the targeting information.

This operation marked the start of direct Western attacks on Houthi missile capabilities. The US defended it as self-defense to deter further shipping attacks.

Additional strikes occurred on January 18th, with the US hitting a Houthi compound in Sanaa. President Biden confirmed the US would continue strikes until the Houthis agree to halt attacks in the region.

Date Strikes By Targets
Jan 18 US & UK 3 Houthi missile sites
Jan 18 US Houthi compound in Sanaa

So far, the Houthi response has been defiant. A Houthi military spokesman threatened to escalate attacks, not cease them. Analysts warn the strikes alone are unlikely to change Houthi behavior without additional diplomatic pressure on Iran.

Concerns Over Civilian Toll

There are concerns the US strikes could worsen Yemen’s humanitarian crisis if civilian areas are impacted.

  • The UN has warned Yemen is facing risk of large-scale famine. Any disruption to aid flows could be disastrous.
  • Critics argue the US lacks legal authority for military action against the Houthis. As Yemen’s civil war is an internal conflict, they do not see justification for external strikes under international law.

To mitigate civilian harm, the US has used precision guided missiles against isolated Houthi sites. Officials say they are taking care not to hit populated areas.

Still, past Saudi-led coalition bombing campaigns have faced widespread criticism for civilian deaths. Unless the Houthis capitulate quickly, longer US engagement risks inflaming Yemen’s crisis.

What Comes Next?

In the short term, additional US strikes are likely if the Houthis do not halt Red Sea attacks. President Biden has been clear this remains a live military option.

However, there appears to be growing recognition that strikes alone will not solve the crisis.

  • On Jan 18th, the US State Department announced it has unblocked $1 billion in aid for Yemen. This includes funding for food, health services, and anti-starvation programs.
  • Diplomats are also exploring renewed peace talks between the Houthis and Yemen’s government. Oman has offered to mediate negotiations.

Ultimately, analysts say ending Yemen’s civil war requires a political solution. External military action may pressure the Houthis temporarily, but will not defeat them outright or win lasting stability.

With no end in sight for the conflict, citizens continue to bear the consequences. Over 4 million Yemenis have been displaced by violence. Without concerted diplomacy, fears of worsening hunger, privation and civilian harm will persist regardless of US strikes.

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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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