US, British forces shoot down 21 drones and missiles fired from Yemen
American and British forces shot down 18 drones and three missiles Tuesday that were launched by Yemen's Iran-backed Houthi rebels toward international shipping lanes in the Red Sea, the US military said.
The attack came a week after 12 nations led by the United States warned the Houthis of consequences unless they immediately halted firing on commercial vessels - strikes the rebels say are in support of Palestinians in Gaza, which Israel has destroyed in an unprecedented war.
"Iranian-backed Houthis launched a complex attack of Iranian designed one-way attack UAVs..., anti-ship cruise missiles, and an anti-ship ballistic missile from Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen into the Southern Red Sea," the US Central Command (CENTCOM) said in a statement.
The drones and missiles were downed by a combination of F/A-18 warplanes operating from the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower aircraft carrier and one British and three American destroyers, CENTCOM said, adding that there were no injuries or damage reported.
The United States set up a multinational naval task force last month to protect Red Sea shipping from Houthi attacks, which are endangering a transit route that carries up to 12 percent of global trade.
CENTCOM said US forces shot down a drone launched from Yemen over the weekend, while Vice Admiral Brad Cooper said the Houthis had launched an explosives-laden sea drone into shipping lanes last week - the first time they had used such a weapon in the current conflict.
The Houthis say they are targeting Israeli-linked vessels, but Cooper, the commander of US naval forces in the Middle East, said dozens of countries have connections to ships that have been attacked.
The rebels - who control much of Yemen - are part of the "axis of resistance" of groups arrayed against Israel.
The Gaza war began on October 7, the day Hamas carried out a large-scale attack in southern Israel - which the group says came in response to decades of Israeli blockade and aggression - that killed about 1,140 people, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli figures.
Following the attack, the United States rushed military aid to Israel, which has carried out a relentless campaign in Gaza that has killed at least 23,210 people, most of them women and children. Israel has vowed to dismantle Hamas, but has received international condemnation for the colossal civilian death toll.
Yemen's Houthis say they want to disrupt shipping routes in the Red Sea to deter Israel's brutal war in Gaza— The New Arab (@The_NewArab) January 4, 2024
But how could this affect global trade? ⬇️https://t.co/PlXqwtXAj3
Those deaths have sparked widespread anger in the Middle East and provided an impetus for attacks by armed groups across the region that are opposed to Israel.
US forces in Iraq and Syria have also repeatedly come under fire from drone and rocket attacks that Washington says are being carried out by Iran-backed armed groups.
Last week, the United States carried out a strike in Baghdad that killed a pro-Iran commander who it said was involved in attacks on American forces - a move that infuriated the Iraqi government.
The violence in Iraq and Syria and the continued attacks by the Houthis have raised fears of a broader regional conflict directly involving Iran - a worst-case scenario that Washington is desperately seeking to avoid.