In a coordinated effort, US and British armed forces conducted air strikes on Houthi military targets in Yemen on January 11, 2024. The action was intended to curb Houthi rebel attacks on shipping in the southern Red Sea, particularly those targeting international vessels.
Houthi rebel attacks and international response
The Iran-backed Houthi rebels, based in Yemen, have been responsible for multiple missile and drone attacks, targeting neighboring countries and vessels in response to the war between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
According to US President Joe Biden, 27 separate attacks on commercial ships have been carried out by the Houthis since November 2023. These attacks have impacted more than 50 nations and led to the diversion of over 2,000 ships, causing significant economic disruptions, with 12% of global trade passing through the area.
British, US and French warships among others have been actively defending international shipping lanes against Houthi drones and missiles.
On December 26, 2023, US Navy assets successfully intercepted and neutralized a barrage of loitering munitions (or kamikaze drones), anti-ship ballistic missiles and land attack cruise missiles.
Then, on the night of January 9-10, 2024, Houthi rebels carried out their most significant attack yet. They targeted maritime traffic around the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, with at least 18 loitering munitions, two cruise missiles and an anti-ship ballistic missile aimed at merchant ships and US and British naval assets deployed in the region.
The US Navy scrambled F/A-18 Super Hornet fighters from the Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group to intercept the weapons.
Joint response to January 9 attacks
Following the deliberate attacks on HMS Diamond and US Navy vessels, coalition forces identified key Houthi facilities involved in these threats and executed precision strikes.
The British government detailed its involvement in the operation of January 11, 2024: four RAF Eurofighter Typhoon FGR4 fighters, supported by an A330 MRTT Voyager air refueling tanker, utilized Paveway IV guided bombs to target two Houthi facilities.
The first was a site in Bani, northwest Yemen, used for launching reconnaissance and attack drones. The second was the airfield at Abbs, known for the launching of cruise missiles and drones over the Red Sea.
“In planning the strikes, particular care was taken to minimize any risks to civilians, and any such risks were mitigated further by the decision to conduct the strikes during the night,” Britain’s Ministry of Defence said in a statement. “The detailed results of the strikes are being assessed, but early indications are that the Houthis’ ability to threaten merchant shipping has taken a blow.”
Four @RoyalAirForce Typhoons have conducted precision strikes on two Houthi military targets alongside US forces.— Rt Hon Grant Shapps MP (@grantshapps) January 12, 2024
The threat to innocent lives and global trade has become so great that this action was not only necessary, it was our duty to protect vessels & freedom of navigation pic.twitter.com/tbN7ncJYpF
The United States Department of Defense stated that the airstrikes were specifically aimed at military facilities linked to the Houthi’s unmanned aerial vehicle, ballistic and cruise missiles, as well as coastal radar and air surveillance capabilities. According to US President Joe Biden, the military operation was also supported by Australia, Bahrain, Canada and the Netherlands.
“These targeted strikes are a clear message that the United States and our partners will not tolerate attacks on our personnel or allow hostile actors to imperil freedom of navigation in one of the world’s most critical commercial routes,” Biden declared in a statement.
The Houthi military reported that 73 raids were conducted by the UK and US forces, targeting the Yemeni capital city, Sanaa, and the governorates of Hodeidah, Taiz, Hajjah, and Saada. At least five people were reportedly killed, and six other members of the Houthi armed forces injured.
“The US and British enemy bears full responsibility for its criminal aggression against our Yemeni people, and it will not go unanswered and unpunished,” Houthi military spokesperson Yahya Saree said on X (formerly Twitter).
Russia, an ally of Iran, has called for an urgent meeting of the United Nations Security Council to discuss the strikes carried out by the US and the UK in Yemen.