Today's D Brief: US, UK attack Houthis in Yemen; Global reactions; Taiwan’s election; Seahawk crash in California; And a bit more.
American and British jets and ships attacked more than 60 Houthi militant targets across at least 16 locations inside Yemen early Friday, which was late Thursday in Washington. “Over 100 precision-guided munitions of various types were used in the strikes,” including “Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles launched from surface and sub-surface platforms,” U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Alex Grynkewich said in a statement.
Other nations involved: Australia, Bahrain, Canada, and the Netherlands, though it’s unclear precisely what role each played, and the White House declined to elaborate. (Denmark, Germany, New Zealand, and South Korea joined with the six nations already mentioned in a separate statement of support for the strikes, vowing “not [to] hesitate to defend lives and ensure the free flow of commerce” through the Red Sea in the weeks ahead.)
“This multinational action targeted radar systems, air defense systems, and storage and launch sites for one way attack unmanned aerial systems, cruise missiles, and ballistic missiles,” U.S. officials at the Tampa-based Central Command said after the operation.
On the British side, four Typhoon FGR4s “used Paveway IV guided bombs to conduct precision strikes on two of these Houthi facilities,” officials at the Ministry of Defense said in a statement. “One was a site at Bani in north-western Yemen used to launch reconnaissance and attack drones,” and an airfield at Abbs, Yemen, was another target. “Intelligence has shown that it has been used to launch both cruise missiles and drones over the Red Sea,” the Brits said. (You can watch video of the British strikes, here.)
A Houthi spokesman afterward claimed 73 strikes hit different facilities across Sanaa, Hodeidah, Taiz, Hajjah, and Saada (The New York Times assembled those locations in a map, here). The strikes killed five Houthi militants, and wounded another half dozen, the Houthi spokesman said in a video posted to social media on Friday.
The Houthis also promised to respond, and vowed to use “more than 24 drones and several missiles,” as they did on January 9—causing the U.S. and the Brits to repel that attack with naval and air assets in the Red Sea.
Pentagon: The overnight strikes are “intended to disrupt and degrade the Houthis’ capabilities to endanger mariners and threaten global trade in one of [the] world’s most critical waterways,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a statement. “The United States maintains its right to self-defense and, if necessary, we will take follow-on actions to protect U.S. forces,” he added.
POTUS: “The United States and our partners will not tolerate attacks on our personnel or allow hostile actors to imperil freedom of navigation in one of the world’s most critical commercial routes,” President Joe Biden said after the strikes, and warned more strikes could come if the Houthis threaten “the free flow of international commerce” again.
“More than 50 nations have been affected in 27 [Houthi] attacks on international commercial shipping,” Biden said in his statement. “Crews from more than 20 countries have been threatened or taken hostage in acts of piracy,” and “More than 2,000 ships have been forced to divert thousands of miles to avoid the Red Sea—which can cause weeks of delays in product shipping times.”
One day before the U.S. and British strikes, representatives at the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution demanding the Houthis “immediately cease all attacks on merchant and commercial vessels.” The measure passed with 11 nations in favor, none opposed, and 4 abstentions—China, Russia, Algeria, and Mozambique.
Just a few hours before the strikes, the Houthis launched another anti-ship ballistic missile “into international shipping lanes in the Gulf of Aden,” CENTCOM said. “One commercial vessel reported visually observing the missile impact the water; however, there were no injuries or damage reported,” said U.S. military officials.
Also on Thursday, we learned of a different attack one week prior that occurred a fair distance away in the Indian Ocean. In that episode, U.S. officials at the Bahrain-based Fifth Fleet claim “an Iranian one-way attack unmanned aerial vehicle” attacked and struck a ship known as the M/V Pacific Gold. “No injuries or major damage was reported in that incident,” the officials said Thursday.
“We hold the Houthi militants and their destabilizing Iranian sponsors responsible for the illegal, indiscriminate, and reckless attacks on international shipping that have impacted 55 nations so far, including endangering the lives of hundreds of mariners, including the United States,” said CENTCOM Commander Army Gen. Michael Erik Kurilla Thursday evening.
Iran’s Foreign Ministry called the action “a clear violation of Yemen's sovereignty and territorial integrity, and a breach of international laws.” Russia’s Foreign Ministry described it as “another example of the Anglo-Saxons' perversion of UN Security Council resolutions.”
Now what? U.S. officials say they’re prepared for the Houthis to respond. “While we fully expect this action to diminish the Houthis’ capability and degrade it, and certainly over time to reduce their capacity and propensity to conduct these attacks, we would not be surprised to see some sort of response,” a White House official told reporters late Thursday evening.
Capitol Hill reax: Democratic Sen. Jack Reed, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, called the strikes “necessary and proportional.” Arizona Sen. Mark Kelly described it as a “necessary” response. But Democratic Rep. Ro Khanna from California was not pleased, and protested, “The President needs to come to Congress before launching a strike against the Houthis in Yemen.” Republican Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Rand Paul of Kentucky agreed with Khanna.
Mississippi Republican Sen. Roger Wicker called the U.S. and British response “a good first step toward restoring deterrence in the Red Sea,” but said he considers the response “two months overdue.” (The Houthis’ first documented attack on Red Sea shipping vessels, hijacking the vehicle carrier ship Galaxy Leader, occurred on November 19.) Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said much the same—welcoming the U.S. response while describing it as “overdue”—in his own short statement Thursday evening.
Programming note: Lots of Republicans, including House Speaker Mike Johnson, Sens. Marsha Blackburn, Tom Cotton, Todd Young, Katie Britt, Markwayne Mullin, Lindsey Graham, Joni Ernst, Rick Scott, and others appear to have received the GOP’s messaging memo describing the strikes as “overdue.”
Wicker also lampooned the White House for seeking allies and consensus before responding militarily, complaining, “For weeks, the Houthis have launched drones and missiles at our sailors, while the Biden administration has trumpeted a maritime task force…It is time to dispense with the hollow talk of ‘joint resolutions’ and ‘maritime task forces,’” Wicker said.
He also emphasized his desire for Saudi Arabia’s input in the future, stressing, “It is important that we follow this action in close consultation with our Saudi partners to ensure they are with us as the situation develops.”
Official Saudi reax: “While the Kingdom emphasizes the importance of maintaining the security and stability of the Red Sea region, as the freedom of navigation in it is an international demand due to its impact on the interests of the entire world, it calls for restraint and avoiding escalation in light of the events the region is witnessing,” Riyadh’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
The Saudis, you may recall, are trying to extricate themselves from their own war on the Houthis in Yemen, which the Saudis and Emiratis launched in March 2015 after the Houthis seized control of the capital city, Sana’a, before marching south to Aden—where they were halted by UAE forces. The Emirates, however, have since withdrawn from Yemen, leaving the Saudis to negotiate some kind of peace deal with the Iran-backed militia in Sana’a.
One last thing: The Treasury Department just announced new sanctions targeting two firms suspected of aiding the Houthis in Yemen. That includes “two companies in Hong Kong and the United Arab Emirates [allegedly involved in] shipping Iranian commodities on behalf of the network of Iran-based, Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force-backed Houthi financial facilitator Sa’id al-Jamal,” U.S. officials said Friday.
- “Oil prices rise on US-UK strikes over Red Sea attacks,” the BBC reported Friday; CNBC and Reuters have similar coverage;
- ICYMI: “Iraq seeks quick exit of US forces but no deadline set, PM says,” Reuters reported Wednesday;
- And “Iraqi officials privately signal they want US forces to stay,” Politico reported Tuesday.
Welcome to this Friday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with Audrey Decker. Share your newsletter tips, reading recommendations, or feedback for the year ahead here. And if you’re not already subscribed, you can do that here. On this day in 1964, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos was born.
A U.S. Navy helicopter crashed off the coast of Coronado, California, during a routine training mission on Thursday. Fortunately, all six crew members aboard the MH-60R Seahawk survived and were quickly moved ashore, a Navy spokesperson confirmed. “All personnel are undergoing medical evaluation at this time. An investigation will be initiated to determine the cause of the crash,” the spokesperson said.
Two years ago, a similar Navy helicopter, the MH-60S, crashed off the coast of San Diego in late August, killing five crew members. The U.S. Naval Institute News broke down what happened in that tragic accident, based on the Navy’s formal investigation published the following April, here.
This weekend, voters in democratic Taiwan head to the polls to pick a new president. Some observers view the vote as “a litmus test for the future of cross-strait relations, coming at a time when the status quo over Taiwan – a territory Beijing claims as an integral part of ‘one China’—is being challenged,” as Maryland Professor Meredith Oyen wrote this week in The Conversation. The Wall Street Journal calls it an election with “global stakes.” The New York Times published its own special feature on the “stakes” of Saturday’s election.
Lastly, and for your extended weekend viewing, the Wall Street Journal just published a six-minute video looking “Inside Boeing’s X-37B Space Plane Conducting Secret Missions for the U.S.” You can see that, here.
We’ll be taking off on the 15th for Martin Luther King Jr. Day, so you can catch us again on Tuesday. Have a safe weekend!