US says ‘not at war’ with Houthis; Biden admits strikes not halting attacks

Remarks after US conducted its fifth round of strikes against targets in Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen.

US President Joe Biden has pledged to continue strikes against the Houthis [File: Yuri Gripas/AP Photo]

United States President Joe Biden has pledged to continue strikes against Yemen’s Houthis even as he admitted that military action against the rebel group has failed to halt attacks on commercial shipping.

Biden made his remarks on Thursday after the US conducted its fifth round of strikes against targets in Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen.

US Central Command (CENTCOM) said in a statement that it had destroyed two anti-ship missiles after determining they were an “imminent threat to merchant vessels and US Navy ships in the region”.

Asked by reporters if strikes against the rebel group were working, Biden acknowledged they had not stopped attacks on international shipping in the Red Sea.

“Well, when you say working, are they stopping the Houthis? No,” Biden said. “Are they gonna continue? Yes.”

Pentagon spokesperson Sabrina Singh said in a later briefing that the Houthis would have to make the decision to stop the attacks.

“We never said that the Houthis would immediately stop,” Singh said, adding that it was in the group’s “best interests” to halt the attacks.

“You’ve seen that we’ve been able to degrade and severely disrupt and destroy a significant number of their capabilities since Thursday. But it’s really on them when they decide that they want to stop interrupting commercial shipping, innocent mariners that are transiting the Red Sea.”

Singh also said that the US did not consider itself to be at war with the Houthis and that its actions are in self-defence.

“We don’t think that we are at war. We don’t want to see a regional war,” Singh said. “The Houthis are the ones that continue to launch cruise missiles, anti-ship missiles at innocent mariners, at commercial vessels that are just transiting an area that sees, you know, 10 to 15 percent of world’s commerce.”

The Houthis in a statement later on Thursday said it had carried out a missile attack on the US ship Chem Ranger in the Gulf of Aden, resulting in “direct hits”.

CENTCOM said the rebel group had launched two missiles at the US-owned tanker, but they missed their target.

The Iran-backed Houthis have carried out repeated attacks on cargo ships in the Red Sea, a major conduit for global trade, in a show of support for Palestinians under Israeli bombardment in Gaza.

More than two dozen vessels have been attacked by the group since they seized the Israeli-linked Galaxy Leader vessel in November.

The attacks have forced some of the world’s largest shipping operators to redirect their vessels around the southern tip of Africa, severely disrupting global trade.

The US and its partners last month launched a multinational force, Operation Prosperity Guardian, to protect commercial vessels from drone and missile attacks in the waterway.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies