US launches new strikes on Yemen’s Houthis as conflict escalates

The attack comes a day after US, UK raids on Iran-aligned group’s facilities sparked protests, calls for retaliation.

Newly recruited Houthi fighters raise their firearms during a ceremony at the end of their training in Sanaa, Yemen, on January 11, 2024 [Khaled Abdullah/Reuters]

The United States launched new strikes against the Houthi rebels in Yemen for a second straight day after the Iran-aligned group warned it would retaliate for a series of attacks on its facilities.

The US military’s Central Command (CENTCOM) said on Saturday that Tomahawk missiles were fired from the US Navy’s USS Carney at a Houthi radar site.

It described the attack as a “follow-on action” after the US and the United Kingdom launched a barrage of attacks by land and sea targeting Houthi military sites across Yemen to stop the group from attacking merchant and military vessels in the Red Sea.

“I heard these explosions and many people talked on social media that they had heard powerful explosions in the capital, Sanaa,” said Al Jazeera’s Mohammed al-Attab, reporting from Yemen’s capital.

Nasreddin Amer, the Houthis’ deputy information secretary, told Al Jazeera the overnight US strike caused no damage or casualties.

“There were no injuries, no material nor human losses,” Amer said, adding that the Houthis would come back with a “strong and effective response”.

Meanwhile, Houthi spokesperson Mohammed Abdulsalam told Reuters news agency the US attack would not deter it from waging attacks on Israel-linked vessels.

US President Joe Biden warned on Friday that he could order more strikes. “We will make sure that we respond to the Houthis if they continue this outrageous behaviour.”

The Houthis say their campaign is part of their support for Palestinians under siege and bombardment by Israeli forces in Gaza over the past three months.

The US Department of Defense said that its first night of attacks on Yemen late on Thursday involved more than 150 munitions fired from US and UK “maritime and air platforms” that targeted more than 16 locations controlled by Houthi forces.

The sites attacked included Houthi weapons depots, launch sites, air defence radars, “command and control nodes”, and “production facilities”, the department said.

The Houthis, who have controlled most of Yemen for nearly a decade, said five fighters were killed. They promised to continue their attacks on regional shipping.

The US says the Houthis have carried out 27 attacks on commercial vessels in the Red Sea since commandeering the Galaxy Leader and its 25-strong multinational crew on November 19.

INTERACTIVE - attacks-red-sea

Fear of ‘spillover’

The strikes are the first on Yemeni territory since 2016 and also marked the first military intervention by the US in reaction to drone and missile attacks on commercial ships since Israel’s war on Gaza started on October 7.

The Houthi movement, which controls much of Yemen after nearly a decade of war against a Western-backed, Saudi-led coalition, is a strong supporter of Hamas in its fight against Israel. The war in Gaza has killed more than 23,000 people, including about 10,000 children, and injured more than 60,000.

However, not all major US allies backed the strikes in Yemen. The Netherlands, Australia, Canada and Bahrain provided logistical and intelligence support, while Germany, Denmark, New Zealand and South Korea signed a joint statement defending the attacks and warning of further action.

But Italy, Spain and France chose not to sign or participate, fearing a wider escalation.

Tens of thousands of Yemenis gathered in several cities to condemn the US and British strikes, denounce Israel and reaffirm their support for Palestinians.

“Your strikes on Yemen are terrorism,” said Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, a member of the group’s political council. “The United States is the Devil.”

The Biden administration had removed the Houthis from a US State Department list of “foreign terrorist organizations” in 2021. When asked if he felt the term “terrorist” described the movement now, he said: “I think they are.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies