U.S. and allies launch strikes over Yemen

In a dramatic escalation tonight, the US and allies unleashed airstrikes against Houthi targets in Yemen, responding to weeks of attacks on trade routes.

The United States and a handful of its allies on Thursday carried out military strikes against more than a dozen targets in Yemen controlled by the Iranian-backed Houthi militia, in an expansion of the war in the Middle East that the Biden administration had sought to avoid for the past three months.

The American-led air and naval strikes came in response to more than two dozen Houthi drone and missile attacks against commercial shipping in the Red Sea since November, and after warnings to the Houthis in the past week from the Biden administration and several international allies of serious consequences if the salvos did not stop.

On Thursday night, President Biden called the strikes 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.”

In a statement, he warned: “I will not hesitate to direct further measures to protect our people and the free flow of international commerce as necessary.”

The Houthis have defied earlier American ultimatums, vowing to continue their attacks in what they say is a protest against Israel’s military campaign in Gaza. More than 2,000 ships have been forced to divert thousands of miles to avoid the Red Sea, causing weeks of delays, Mr. Biden said.

On Tuesday, American and British warships intercepted one of the largest barrages of Houthi drone and missile strikes yet, an assault that U.S. and other Western military officials said was the last straw.

Biden officials said they had telegraphed what was coming for weeks. But the strikes, they said, were meant more to damage Houthi capability and to hinder the group’s ability to strike Red Sea targets, rather than to kill leaders and Iranian trainers, which could be viewed as more escalatory.

The strikes hit radars, missile and drone launch sites, and weapons storage areas, Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III said in a statement. Thursday’s attack drew the United States more deeply into a conflict in an already unstable region, which ignited after Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7 and killed 1,200 people, according to Israeli officials. The Israeli response has so far killed more than 23,000 people in Gaza, according to health authorities there.

Some American allies in the Middle East, including the Gulf nations of Qatar and Oman, had raised concerns that strikes against the Houthis could spiral out of control and drag the region into a wider war with other Iranian proxies, such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and Tehran-backed militias in Syria and Iraq. But on Thursday, the United States decided to act. Britain joined the United States in the attack against the Houthi targets as fighter jets from bases in the region and off the aircraft carrier Dwight D. Eisenhower struck targets with precision-guided bombs.

“The United Kingdom will always stand up for freedom of navigation and the free flow of trade,” Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said in a statement. The Netherlands, Australia, Canada and Bahrain also participated, providing logistics, intelligence and other support, according to U.S. officials. At least one Navy submarine fired Tomahawk cruise missiles, the officials said.

Yemen’s foreign ministry responded to the attacks with a statement that “the U.S. and U.K must be prepared to pay a heavy price and face the serious consequences of their aggression.”

The Houthis, whose military capabilities were honed by more than eight years of fighting against a Saudi-led coalition, have greeted the prospect of war with the United States with open delight. On Wednesday, before the strike, Abdul-Malik al-Houthi, the militia’s leader, threatened to meet an American attack with a fierce response.

Houthi officials say that the sole goal of their attacks is to force Israel to halt its military campaign and to allow the free flow of aid into Gaza. They claim they pose no threat to global shipping, despite their numerous attacks.

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