US, British strike at least 60 targets, 28 locations in Yemen

The Houthis have vowed to retaliate for the strikes.
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Yemen strikes
U.S. Navy aircraft took part in the Jan. 11 strikes against more than 60 Houthi rebel targets in Yemen. (Screenshot from U.S. Central Command video)

U.S. and British forces attacked more than 60 targets at 28 different locations in Yemen as part of Thursday’s retaliatory strikes against Houthi rebels, said defense officials, who provided reporters with the latest information about the operation on Friday.

More than 150 precision-guided munitions were used in the strikes, said Army Lt. Gen. Douglas A. Sims II, the Joint Staff’s director for operations. U.S. military planners are still in the process of conducting a battle damage assessment from the strikes.

“Every target we struck last night was associated with a capability that has been employed in denying freedom of navigation in the Red Sea and the BAM [Bab-el-Mandeb],” Sims told reporters during a Pentagon news briefing. “Whether it was associated with radars that are providing surveillance to the Houthis to determine what ships to strike at; if it’s one-way attack UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles] that are being used to strike at ships; or its some sort of ballistic, cruise [missiles], or otherwise that have been employed in an effort to strike those ships – all of those were capabilities that we sought to degrade with our strikes last night.”

The military operation involved Carrier Air Wing 3 aboard the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower along with cruiser USS Philippine Sea and the destroyers USS Gravely and USS Mason, Sims said.

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Sims said an Ohio-class guided missile submarine also took part in the strikes. He did not name which submarine was involved in the operation. In November, U.S. Central Command, or CENTCOM, released a photo showing an Ohio-class submarine entering the Red Sea that media outlets have identified as the USS Florida, which can carry up to 154 Tomahawk missiles.

Since Nov.19, Houthi rebels have conducted nearly 30 attacks on international shipping lanes using drones, ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, and small boats. A massive Houthi drone and missile attack on Jan. 9 specifically targeted U.S. ships, a senior administration official told reporters on Thursday.

The Houthis launched another anti-ship ballistic missile on Friday, but it did not hit any ships, said Sims, who added that he hopes the Houthis do not retaliate for the strikes, “But we’re prepared in the event that they do.”

Yemen strikes
U.S. Navy aircraft took part in the Jan. 11 strikes against more than 60 Houthi rebel targets in Yemen. (Screenshot from U.S. Central Command video)

The strikes in Yemen are the latest development in a proxy war that the U.S. and Iran have waged in the Middle East for decades.

Since Hamas launched its Oct. 7 attack on Israel, Iranian-backed groups have attacked U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria a total of 130 times, using drones, mortars, rockets, and at least one ballistic missile, according to the Pentagon.

One strike in Iraq left an 82nd Airborne Division pilot with a critical head wound. The U.S. has carried out airstrikes in both Iraq and Syria in response to the attacks. Most recently, a U.S. strike on Jan. 4 killed the leader of an Iranian-backed militia in Baghdad, causing friction with the Iraqi government.

It is unclear how the group of Iranian-backed groups known collectively as the “Axis of Resistance” will respond to Thursday’s strikes. The group includes the Houthis as well as Hezbollah in Lebanon and militias that have attacked U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria.

So far, President Joe Biden’s administration has tried to deal with the Iranian proxies individually, but this policy has failed to deter Iran, which supports these groups with lethal aid and intelligence, said Jonathan Lord, director of the Middle East Security program at the Center for a New American Security think tank in Washington, D.C.

The United States needs to impose costs on Iran directly to de-escalate the situation in the Middle East, Lord told Task & Purpose.

“There’s no limit to the number of Yemenis, Lebanese, and Iraqis that Tehran is willing to sacrifice for the opportunity to bloody the U.S., Israel, and to destabilize regional order,” Lord said. “Until the administration can articulate a policy and a strategy that confronts and holds Iran accountable for its actions behind the Houthis and the other groups, violence will only continue to grow.”

The Navy USS Carney defeats a combination of Houthi missiles and drones in the Red Sea, Oct. 19. (Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Aaron Lau/U.S. Navy)

Lord also said he would not be surprised if the Houthis tried to launch a large salvo of drones and missiles at the Red Sea or attack U.S. partners in the region to prove they are still a threat and that anyone who sides with the United States is a target.

The U.S. military is prepared to take follow-up action to protect American troops in the Middle East, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a statement.

“We will not hesitate to defend our forces, the global economy, and the free flow of legitimate commerce in one of the world’s vital waterways,” Austin said on Thursday.

Since the Houthis have vowed to respond to Thursday’s strikes, they will likely carry out additional attacks, said retired Army Gen. David Petraeus, a former CENTCOM commander who also led U.S. and coalition troops in Iraq during the surge and later commanded all U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan.

While Thursday’s strikes against the Houthis were significant, U.S. military officials are likely still determining how much damage has been done to the Houthi arsenal of drones and missiles, Petraeus told Task & Purpose.

“Until there is an assessment of how badly Houthi capabilities have been degraded, it will not be possible to draw definitive conclusions about the possible Houthi responses,” Petraeus said. “And, needless to say, should the Houthis attack again, they can expect further strikes from the U.S.-led coalition which now undoubtedly has a good intelligence baseline of Houthi bases, storage facilities, launch locations, and so on – and also undoubtedly already had potential target packages drawn up should they be needed.”

The risk of escalation in the Middle East is already substantial, but it also varies depending on the region, Petraeus. For example, Petraeus said he doubts that Lebanese Hezbollah, which has been trading fire with Israel for months, will risk provoking a more significant Israeli response.

“But the potential is still there – as well as in Iraq and Syria, of course,” Petraeus said. “Beyond that, it appears that Iran is not eager to get into direct conflict with the U.S. but is happy to support its proxies’ actions as part of Iran’s overall effort to expel the U.S. from the Middle East, an objective they will not achieve.”

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