The US and British militaries have bombed more than a dozen sites used by the Houthi rebels in Yemen, in a massive strike using warship-launched Tomahawk missiles and fighter jets, US officials said.
The military targets included logistical hubs, air defence systems and weapons storage locations, they said early on Friday. Rebel officials said they targeted American and British warships in the Red Sea in reaction to the strikes.
The strikes marked the first US military response against the Houthis for what has been a persistent campaign of drone and missile attacks on commercial ships since the start of Israel’s war on besieged Gaza.
US President Joe Biden said the strikes in Yemen show that the US and its allies “will not tolerate” Houthi attacks on shipping.
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, Biden said in a statement.
“Today’s strikes targeted sites associated with the Huthis’ unmanned aerial vehicle, ballistic and cruise missile, and coastal radar and air surveillance capabilities,” Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin said in a statement.
Houthi leader Ali al Qahoum said they are targeting American and British warships in the Red Sea in reaction to the strikes on Yemen.
“The Yemeni armed forces are responding forcefully to the American and British warships in the Red Sea, sparking a fierce war in the Red Sea and targeting American and British military sites and bases … and what is coming is greater.”
“American-Zionist-British aggression against Yemen launches several raids on the capital, Sanaa, Hudaida governorate, Saada, and Dhamar,” another Houthi official Abdul Qader al Mortada said on X.
“Our country was subjected to a massive aggressive attack by American and British ships, submarines, and warplanes,” the Houthis’ Deputy Foreign Minister Hussein al Ezzi said, according to rebel media.
“America and Britain will have to prepare to pay a heavy price and bear all the dire consequences of this blatant aggression,” he was quoted as saying.
A senior administration official said that while the US expects the strikes will degrade the Houthi’s capabilities, “we would not be surprised to see some sort of response,” although they haven’t seen anything yet.
The Associated Press journalists in Sanaa heard four explosions but saw no sign of warplanes.
Two residents of Hudaida, Amin Ali Saleh and Hani Ahmed, said they heard five strong explosions. Hudaida lies on the Red Sea and is the largest port city governed by the Houthis.
Explosions also were heard by residents of Taiz, a southwestern city near the Red Sea.
Al Masirah, a Houthi-run satellite news channel, described strikes hitting the Al Dailami Air Base north of Sanaa, the airport in the port city of the Hudaida, a camp east of Saada, the airport in the city of Taiz and an airport near Hajjah.
Israel’s war on Gaza
Hours ahead of the strikes the group’s leader Abdel-Malek al Houthi said any attack on Houthis will come with such response that would be bigger than the recent strike in which its drones and missiles targeted a US ship in the Red Sea.
“Any American attack will not remain without a response. The response will be greater than the attack that was carried out with twenty drones and a number of missiles,” he said.
Houthi rebels have stepped up attacks on commercial vessels in the Red Sea in protest against Israel’s brutal war in Gaza. Various shipping lines have suspended operations, instead taking the longer journey around Africa.
“We are more determined to target ships linked to Israel, and we will not back down from that,” Houthi said.
In a separate statement, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said the Royal Air Force carried out targeted strikes against military facilities used by the Houthis. The Defence Ministry said four fighter jets based in Cyprus took part in the strikes.
Noting the rebels have carried out a series of dangerous attacks on shipping, Sunak added, “This cannot stand.”
“He said the UK took “limited, necessary and proportionate action in self-defense, alongside the United States with non-operational support from the Netherlands, Canada and Bahrain against targets tied to these attacks, to degrade Houthi military capabilities and protect global shipping.”
“The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is following with great concern the military operations taking place in the Red Sea region and the air strikes on a number of sites in the Republic of Yemen,” Riyadh said in a statement, calling for “self-restraint and avoiding escalation”.
The governments of Australia, Bahrain, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Netherlands, New Zealand and South Korea joined the US and UK in issuing a statement saying that while the aim is to de-escalate tensions and restore stability in the Red Sea, the allies won’t hesitate to defend lives and protect commerce in the critical waterway.
Transit through the Red Sea, from the Suez Canal to the Bab al Mandeb Strait, is a crucial shipping lane for global commerce.
About 12 percent of the world’s trade typically passes through the waterway that separates Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, including oil, natural gas, grain and everything from toys to electronics.
In response to the attacks, the US created a new maritime security mission, dubbed Operation Prosperity Guardian, to increase security in the Red Sea, Bab al Mandeb Strait and the Gulf of Aden, with about 22 countries participating.
US warships, and those from other nations, have been routinely sailing back and forth through the narrow strait to provide protection for ships and to deter attacks.
The coalition has also ramped up airborne surveillance.