@Jackie San

The United States and Britain have launched military strikes in Yemen in response to Houthi rebel attacks on shipping in the Red Sea, raising fears of an escalation of conflict in the region.

Hours after the attacks early on Friday, which the rebels said killed five people, the Houthis warned that all US and British assets have now become “legitimate targets”.

US President Joe Biden said the strikes followed “unprecedented” attacks by the Houthis on commercial ships in the Red Sea and warned he would “not hesitate” to take further action if necessary.

“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,” Biden said of the attacks by air and sea.

The attacks struck nearly 30 locations in Yemen using more than 150 munitions, US Lieutenant General Douglas Sims, the director of the Joint Staff, said late on Friday. He did not expect a high number of casualties as the targets included those in rural areas. But he said Washington expected the Houthis to attempt to retaliate.

In a statement the Houthis’ Supreme Political Council threatened that “all American-British interests have become legitimate targets for the Yemeni armed forces in response to their direct and declared aggression against the Republic of Yemen.”

Earlier, the Houthis called the strikes on Yemen “barbaric”, threatened retaliation and also said they will continue targeting ships heading towards Israel for as long as its war on Gaza continues.

“The American and British enemy bears full responsibility for its criminal aggression against our Yemeni people, and it will not go unanswered and unpunished,” Yahya Saree, the group’s military spokesperson said.

Yemen’s Saudi-backed, internationally recognised government, however, blamed the Houthis for the UK and US strikes on the country, saying the rebels bore responsibility for dragging Yemen into an arena of military confrontation with its attacks in the Red Sea.

Pentagon spokesperson Pat Ryder told Al Jazeera that the US military is closely monitoring the situation and hasn’t seen any retaliatory attacks from the Houthis so far.

“Our goal here is to ensure this vital waterway [the Red Sea] is safe and secure for international shipping and mariners,” he said.


On Friday, tens of thousands of Yemenis gathered in several cities across the country to condemn the US and British strikes and to reaffirm their support for Palestinians in Gaza.

Mohammed Abdul-Salam, the Houthis’ chief negotiator and spokesperson, described the US and Britain as having “committed foolishness with this treacherous aggression”.

“They were wrong if they thought that they would deter Yemen from supporting Palestine and Gaza,” he wrote online. The group’s “targeting will continue to affect Israeli ships or those heading to the ports of occupied Palestine”, he added.

Al Masirah, a Houthi-run satellite news channel, reported that the strikes hit the al-Dailami air base north of the capital, Sanaa, the airport in the strategic port city of Hodeidah, a camp east of Saada, the airport in the city of Taiz and an airport near Hajjah.

The strikes are the first on Yemeni territory since 2016 and also marked the first military intervention by the US in reaction to drone and missile attacks on commercial ships since Israel’s war on Gaza started in October.

The Houthi movement, which controls much of Yemen after nearly a decade of war against a Western-backed, Saudi-led coalition, is a strong supporter of Hamas in its war against Israel.

The Palestinian group said the US and the UK will bear responsibility for the impact of the strikes on the security of the region.


Ryder told Al Jazeera the US has no plans to add additional forces to the region.

“As you know, since we did deploy additional amounts of capabilities in the region as part of deterrence efforts, that gives us a wide range of capabilities in order to respond to multiple contingencies should we need it,” he said, referring to US military deployments to the Middle East since Israel’s war in Gaza began.

“Since the beginning, our goal has been to ensure that the Israel-Hamas conflict does not turn into a wider conflict. … As of now, we don’t see that conflict has expanded, but we understand the tensions and will continue to stay focused on that,” he added.

No further strikes against Houthi targets were currently planned, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s office said, adding that the situation will be kept under review.

The Houthis have attacked commercial ships they said were linked to Israel or bound for Israeli ports and have engaged directly with the US navy in the Red Sea, firing ballistic missiles and deploying armed drones against US and UK warships.

Sunak called the strikes “necessary and proportionate”. His spokesperson said the prime minister will make a statement to parliament on Monday about the strikes, but there are no plans to hold a vote on support for the military action.

“As we’ve said, the deployment of armed forces is a prerogative power, and the government is under no legal obligation to seek formal parliamentary approval,” the spokesperson said on Friday.

Britain’s Ministry of Defence said in a statement that “early indications are that the Houthis’ ability to threaten merchant shipping has taken a blow”.


Giorgio Cafiero, CEO of Gulf State Analytics, a Washington, DC-based geopolitical risk consultancy, said the US had options other than a military attack.

“One of them was to use the leverage that Washington has over Israel to push Israel into abiding by a ceasefire [in Gaza],” Cafiero told Al Jazeera.

“This has the potential to drag the US into a protracted conflict in the Middle East,” he said. “I think the decisions that the Biden team is making are pushing us in this very dangerous direction right now.”

Trita Parsi from the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft shared a similar sentiment. “The question that needs to be asked is why the British and American governments prefer to escalate and go to war … rather than going on the path of a ceasefire in Gaza, which would not only be more effective,” he told Al Jazeera.

The US said Australia, Bahrain, Canada and the Netherlands supported the operation as it presented the strikes as part of an international effort to restore the free flow of trade in a key route between Europe and Asia that accounts for about 15 percent of the world’s shipping traffic.

Iran, which supports the Houthis, condemned the attacks, and Russia said it had requested an urgent meeting of the United Nations Security Council to discuss the military strikes.

White House spokesperson John Kirby told reporters on Friday that the US was not looking for conflict with Iran despite attacks from the Houthis.

“We’re not interested in a war with Yemen,” Kirby also said. “Everything the president has been doing has been trying to prevent any escalation of conflict, including the strikes last night.”








@Jackie San

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