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US-led Red Sea patrol force to respond to attacks by Houthis

US-led Red Sea patrol force to respond to attacks by Houthis
2 min read
19 December, 2023
The US has announced multinational maritime task force to protect vessels from Houthi strikes. Despite this, the Yemeni group have vowed to continue attacks.
Houthis said they will continue to fire missiles at ships heading to Israel [Getty]

Several countries have agreed to jointly carry out patrols in the southern Red Sea and Gulf of Aden to try to safeguard commercial shipping against attacks by Yemen's Houthi rebels, who say they are supporting Palestinians under siege by Israel in the Gaza Strip.

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, on a visit to Bahrain, identified several countries taking part in an international force. It was unclear whether those countries are willing to do what U.S. warships have done in recent days - shoot down Houthi missiles and drones and rush to the aid of commercial ships under attack.

"This is an international challenge that demands collective action. Therefore today I am announcing the establishment of Operation Prosperity Guardian, an important new multinational security initiative," Austin said in a statement on Tuesday.

It identified participating nations led by the United States as including among others Bahrain, Britain, Canada, France, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Seychelles and Spain.

The Iran-backed Houthis have waded into Israel's war on Gaza by attacking Israel-bound vessels in vital shipping lanes and even firing drones and missiles at Israel, more than 1,000 miles from their seat of power in the Yemeni capital of Sanaa.

Houthis attacked two commercial shipping vessels in the southern Red Sea on Monday, the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) said in a statement. The chemical/oil tanker motor vessel Swan Atlantic was attacked by a drone and an anti-ship ballistic missile, it said. At about the same time in a separate incident, the bulk cargo ship MSC Clara reported an explosion in the water near its location, CENTCOM said.

There were no injuries reported by either vessel.

Houthi spokesperson Yahya Sarea on Monday identified the same vessels as being attacked and said drones were used because the crews failed to respond to calls from the group.

The Houthis have threatened to target all ships heading to Israel, regardless of their nationality, and warned international shipping companies against dealing with Israeli ports.

Mohammed al-Bukhaiti, a member of the Houthi politburo, told Al Jazeera on Monday his group would be able to confront any U.S.-led coalition that could deploy to the Red Sea.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in a call with Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan on Monday, condemned the Houthi's attacks on commercial vessels, the State Department said.