U.S.-led coalition strikes Houthi military targets in Yemen

In the backdrop of the escalation, there’s a possibility in the next few days of a visit to Iran by External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar, The Hindu has learnt

January 12, 2024 05:50 am | Updated January 13, 2024 08:44 am IST - Delhi

An aircraft takes off to join the U.S.-led coalition to conduct air strikes against military targets in Yemen, aimed at the Iran-backed Houthi militia that has been targeting international shipping in the Red Sea, from an undisclosed location, in this handout picture released on January 12, 2024.

An aircraft takes off to join the U.S.-led coalition to conduct air strikes against military targets in Yemen, aimed at the Iran-backed Houthi militia that has been targeting international shipping in the Red Sea, from an undisclosed location, in this handout picture released on January 12, 2024. | Photo Credit: Reuters

Amid spiralling missile and drone strikes on commercial ships and the first direct attack targeting U.S. naval ships on January 9, the U.S. and U.K.-led coalition launched joint strikes on Houthi military targets in Yemen, the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) said. 

Ahead of this development, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar held a telephonic conversation with U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken. The Hindu has learnt that in the backdrop of the escalation, there’s a possibility in the next few days of a visit to Iran by Dr. S. Jaishankar.

On Friday, 10 nations led by U.S. and U.K. issued a joint statement on the strikes that claimed that there was a “broad consensus” in the December 19 meeting and the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolution on December 01, 2023, condemning the Houthi attacks following which the 10 governments issued a joint statement to Houthis that called for the “immediate end of illegal attacks and warned that malign actors would be held accountable” should they continue. It has been learned that India participated in the December 19 discussion at the UNSC but it was in a “listening role”.

The Governments of Australia, Bahrain, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Netherlands, New Zealand, the Republic of Korea, the U.K. and the U.S. issued the joint statement. The statement said that the joint strikes were conducted “in accordance with the inherent right of individual and collective self-defence, consistent with the UN Charter, against several targets in Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen.” “Today’s action demonstrated a shared commitment to freedom of navigation, international commerce, and defending the lives of mariners from illegal and unjustifiable attacks,” the statement said.

“A good discussion this evening with my friend U.S. Secretary Blinken. Our conversation focused on maritime security challenges, especially the Red Sea region. Appreciated his insights on the ongoing situation in West Asia, including Gaza. Exchanged perspectives on developments pertaining to the Ukraine conflict. Looking forward to realizing our extensive cooperation agenda for 2024,” Mr. Jaishankar said on the social media platform ‘X’ on Thursday evening. However, there has been no response to India on the development.

Supporters of the Houthi movement rally to denounce air strikes launched by the U.S. and Britain on Houthi targets, in Sanaa, Yemen January 12, 2024.

Supporters of the Houthi movement rally to denounce air strikes launched by the U.S. and Britain on Houthi targets, in Sanaa, Yemen January 12, 2024. | Photo Credit: Reuters

The USCENTCOM said that the joint strikes were launched by U.S. Central Command forces in coordination with others on January 11 at 2.30 a.m. (Sana’a time) on Houthi targets to degrade their capability to continue their illegal and reckless attacks on U.S. and international vessels and commercial shipping in the Red Sea. “This multinational action targeted radar systems, air defense systems, and storage and launch sites for one-way attack unmanned aerial systems, cruise missiles, and ballistic missiles,” it said on ‘X’.

Meanwhile, there is apprehension of retaliatory strikes on ships by Houthis following the attacks, officials monitoring the situation said and several shipping companies have already diverted their traffic through the Cape of Good Hope, a much longer route.

In the backdrop of the escalating attacks and piracy incidents in the last few weeks, the Indian Navy has scaled up its presence and currently has around 10 ships deployed in the larger Arabian Sea area, officials said. This will increase further, official sources said.

Navy Chief Adm R. Hari Kumar had said two days back that they have stepped up monitoring as well as carrying out boarding and search of suspicious vessels to deter piracy and hijacking attempts.

In a statement on the coalition strikes, U.S. President Joe Biden said that these strikes are in direct response to “unprecedented” Houthi attacks against international maritime vessels in the Red Sea — including the use of anti-ship ballistic missiles “for the first time in history”.

These attacks have endangered U.S. personnel, civilian mariners, and our partners, jeopardised trade, and threatened freedom of navigation, Mr. Biden said adding, “More than 50 nations have been affected in 27 attacks on international commercial shipping. Crews from more than 20 countries have been threatened or taken hostage in acts of piracy. More than 2,000 ships have been forced to divert thousands of miles to avoid the Red Sea—which can cause weeks of delays in product shipping times. And on January 9, Houthis launched their largest attack to date—directly targeting American ships.”

On Wednesday, the UNSC passed a resolution demanding the Houthis halt attacks on merchant and commercial vessels in the Red Sea.

The CENTCOM said that since October 17, 2023, Iranian-backed Houthi militants have attempted to attack and harass 27 ships in international shipping lanes and these they have employed anti-ship ballistic missiles, unmanned aerial vehicles and cruise missiles in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. “These strikes have no association with and are separate from Operation Prosperity Guardian, a defensive coalition of over 20 countries operating in the Red Sea, Bab al-Mandeb Strait, and Gulf of Aden,” it stated.

“We hold the Houthi militants and their destabilizing Iranian sponsors responsible for the illegal, indiscriminate, and reckless attacks on international shipping that have impacted 55 nations so far, including endangering the lives of hundreds of mariners, including the United States,” said General Michael Erik Kurilla, Commander USCENTCOM. “Their illegal and dangerous actions will not be tolerated, and they will be held accountable.”

The joint statement said that their aim remains to de-escalate tensions and restore stability in the Red Sea, but let our message be clear: “We will not hesitate to defend lives and ensure the free flow of commerce in one of the world’s most critical waterways in the face of continued threats.”

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