US-led coalition shoots down 15 drones fired by Yemen’s Houthis in Red Sea

US military says it was responding to a large-scale attack by the Iran-aligned group that posed an ‘imminent threat’.

Houthi supporters
Houthi supporters brandish weapons and chant slogans in Yemen's capital, Sanaa, on March 8, 2024, in support of Palestinians [Mohammed Huwais/AFP]

United States Navy ships and aircraft have shot down 15 drones fired by Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthis in the Red Sea area.

The US military’s Central Command (CENTCOM) said on Saturday that the US-led naval coalition was responding to a large-scale attack by “Iranian-backed Houthi terrorists” launched into the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden between 4am and 6:30am (01:00-03:30 GMT).

The uncrewed aerial vehicles (UAVs) presented “an imminent threat to merchant vessels, US Navy and coalition ships in the region,” the military said on X.

“These actions are taken to protect freedom of navigation and make international waters safer and more secure.”

The Houthi’s military spokesperson, Yahya Saree, said on Saturday that the group had carried out two military operations, the first of which targeted US bulk carrier Propel Fortune in the Gulf of Aden.

In the second operation, Saree claimed that several US military destroyers in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden were targeted “by 37 drones”.

A French warship and fighter jets also shot down four combat drones that were advancing towards naval vessels belonging to the European Aspides mission in the region.

“This defensive action directly contributed to the protection of the cargo ship True Confidence, under the Barbados flag, which was struck on March 6 and is being towed, as well as other commercial vessels transiting in the area,” a French army statement said.

France has a warship in the area, but also warplanes at its bases in Djibouti and the United Arab Emirates.

The United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) confirmed an attempted attack on the Singapore-flagged Propel Fortune.

It said the shipping company reported two explosions in close vicinity of the bulk carrier, but all crew on board were safe and the vessel was proceeding to its next port of call.

“Based on sources, Propel Fortune, was likely targeted due to outdated US ownership data,” UKMTO said in a statement.

This week, at least three seafarers were killed in a Houthi missile attack on a merchant ship in the Gulf of Aden, the US military said, marking the first deaths reported since the Yemeni group began attacks against shipping in one of the world’s busiest sea lanes over Israel’s war on Gaza.

The Houthis claimed responsibility for the attack on Wednesday, which set the Liberian-owned, Barbados-flagged ship True Confidence ablaze approximately 50 nautical miles (93km) off the coast of Yemen’s port of Aden.

A US-led naval coalition has been operating in the waters since December 2023 trying to counter the Houthi attacks. US forces have also carried out strikes on what they say are Houthi weapons sites in Yemen, including hitting truck-mounted antiship missiles on Thursday.

Despite a series of air raids by US and British forces on Houthi targets, the group that controls the most populous parts of Yemen has remained capable of launching significant attacks.

Those have included last month’s strike on a cargo ship carrying fertiliser, the Rubymar, which sank on Saturday after drifting for several days, and the downing of a US drone worth tens of millions of dollars.

Houthi fighters in Yemen have repeatedly launched drones and missiles against international commercial shipping since mid-November, disrupting global commerce along a route that accounts for about 15 percent of the world’s shipping traffic, forcing firms to reroute to longer and more expensive journeys around Southern Africa.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies