Iran-backed Houthi launch three attacks in Red Sea, Gulf of Aden as tensions escalate; US military responds

Iran-backed Houthi militants in Yemen on Thursday launched three separate attacks in the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea. 

Around 5 a.m., U.S. Central Command forces shot down a drone over the Gulf of Aden. There were no injuries. 

Later Thursday, CENTCOM forces destroyed a Houthi explosive uncrewed surface vehicle (USV) in the Red Sea. U.S. forces identified the USV heading toward the international shipping lane and determined it presented an ‘imminent threat’ to merchant vessels and U.S. Navy ships in the region, CENTCOM said. 

CENTCOM said the strike resulted in ‘significant secondary explosions.’ There were no injuries or damage reported. 

Later that afternoon, two anti-ship ballistic missiles were launched from Houthi-controlled areas in Yemen toward a Liberian-flagged, Bermuda-owned cargo ship. The missiles landed in the water without hitting the ship. There were no injuries or damage reported to the vessel. 

Iran-backed Houthi militants, stationed in Yemen, have for months been firing upon commercial vessels passing through the Red Sea. The militants say the attacks are in support of Palestinians killed in the ongoing Israel-Hamas war in Gaza. Thursday represented the 42nd, 43rd, and 44th such attacks since November 19th.

The latest strikes come just days after three U.S. soldiers were killed in Jordan. The Biden administration has blamed the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, an umbrella group of Iran-backed militias that includes the militant group Kataib Hezbollah. 

Earlier this month, two U.S. Navy SEALs, went missing during a mission in the Red Sea and have since been declared dead. 

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Thursday it’s time to further disable Iran-backed militias like the Houthis that have struck at U.S. forces and ships in the Middle East. He said the U.S. is preparing to take significant action in response to the soldiers’ deaths. 

For days the U.S. has hinted strikes are imminent. The threat of retaliation for Sunday’s deaths has driven some militant groups to say they were stopping hostilities. But the latest strikes by Houthi rebels cast doubt on those claims. 

‘At this point, it’s time to take away even more capability than we’ve taken in the past,’ Austin said Thursday in his first press conference since he was hospitalized on Jan. 1 due to complications from prostate cancer treatment.

Previous U.S. strikes have not deterred the attacks. Since the war between Israel and Hamas broke out in October, Iranian-backed militant groups have struck U.S. bases in Iraq and Syria at least 166 times with rockets, missiles, and one-way attack drones, drawing about a half-dozen U.S. counterstrikes on militant facilities in both countries. The U.S. military also has carried out airstrikes targeting the Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen.

While Iran has denied involvement, Austin said Thursday that ‘how much Iran knew or didn’t know, we don’t know. But it really doesn’t matter because Iran sponsors these groups.’

The Pentagon has the aircraft carrier Dwight D. Eisenhower in the region, along with at least a half dozen other major U.S. warships, U.S. Air Force fighter jets and radar aircraft. It has already been regularly using those assets to conduct strikes and defend ships.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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