“Our aim remains to de-escalate tensions and restore stability in the Red Sea,” the statement said. “But let us reiterate our warning to Houthi leadership: we will not hesitate to defend lives and the free flow of commerce in one of the world’s most critical waterways in the face of continued threats.”
It was the eighth round of strikes on Houthi targets by United States since Jan. 11, and the second involving Britain. It comes as the Biden administration confronts a proliferation of violence across the Middle East against the backdrop of Israel’s war against Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip.
The ongoing military action underscores the Biden administration’s concern about the chilling effect that a series of more than 30 Houthi attacks on commercial and naval ships in recent months, which the rebels have framed as a response to Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, has had on global shipping around the Arabian Peninsula.
While U.S. officials hope to keep the current operation limited in scope, the Houthis’ defiance and vow to seek revenge raises the specter of a prolonged military campaign that could mark a setback to Biden’s goal of refocusing U.S. foreign policy on Russia and China.
The confrontation with the United States has served to elevate the profile of the Houthi movement, which took over large areas of Yemen nearly a decade ago and subsequently defied a years-long bombing campaign by neighboring Saudi Arabia. U.S. officials have long accused Iran of providing weapons and training to the Houthis.
The Biden administration has sought to portray its actions as backed by a broad international consensus, pointing to passage of a resolution condemning the Houthi attacks at the United Nations and a series of joint statements supported by an array of partner nations. But many of Washington’s closest Arab allies have not expressed support for the recent U.S. strikes and only Britain so far has taken part in the military action.
The United States is also spearheading a separate coalition to patrol regional waterways, dubbed Operation Prosperity Guardian, and is conducting operations attempting to interdict weapons smuggling.
A senior military official, who like other officials spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss details of the operation, said the administration was attempting to limit the scope of its targets to those related to the Houthis’ ability to continue their maritime attacks as part of their effort to avoid escalating the situation further. He described the latest strikes as “more of the same.”
The official said that between 25 and 30 munitions were used in the operation, which included strikes from air-based, surface and undersea assets. The vessels launched Tomahawk cruise missiles, while aircraft participating flew from the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, an aircraft carrier in the Red Sea, the official said.
Pentagon officials, who spoke after the strikes were announced, described the action as “self-defense.” President Biden has faced criticism from some Democrats who say he should have sought approval from Congress before attacking the Houthis.
Dan Lamothe contributed to this report.