The D Brief: Houthis renew ship attacks; More ATACMS to Ukraine; Gaza pier update; Changes at SOF school; And a bit more.

The U.S. military officially started building a temporary pier to deliver humanitarian aid over the Mediterranean Sea and to besieged Palestinians on the Gaza coast, military and White House officials said Thursday. President Biden ordered construction of the pier in early March, after it became apparent Israel had no plans to conclude its war against Hamas terrorists anytime soon. 

“Earlier today, the at-sea assembly of key pieces of the temporary pier began off the coast of Gaza,” a senior U.S. military official told reporters Thursday. “It's well off the coast in a safe position,” they added, and said delivery of aid via that pier is on schedule to begin in early May. 

“This is a unique mission,” the official said, describing it as “less about a military operation” and more “as an effort to provide a shared service on behalf of the international community to increase the flow of humanitarian assistance into Gaza with the U.S. military as a logistics enabler.” 

Here’s how it’s intended to work: “First, humanitarian assistance comes into Cyprus via air or sea, where it's screened, palletized and prepared for delivery,” the official explained. “Pallets are then loaded onto commercial vessels that travel about 200 miles from Cyprus to a large floating platform anchored miles off the coast of Gaza,” and beyond the reach of Hamas mortars. That floating platform, as the U.S. officials repeatedly described it, “provides a stable workspace to trans-load pallets from the larger commercial vessels onto smaller Army vessels that can reach closer to shore.” 

Some of those Army vessels can carry 15 trucks; others can carry just five. The vessels will then link up with the pier stretching several hundred meters long and anchored into the sand on Gaza. Think of it as a “temporary causeway” with no U.S. troops closer than “several hundred meters from the shore,” one of the officials said. “Trucks then drive off the [Army vessels] down the causeway onto the land and drop off commodities in a very secure area,” they explained. 

Who’s driving those trucks? “A third party…we'll have a chance to identify those countries here, you know, going forward, and also let them speak for themselves” later, the officials said. To be clear, they added, “There will be no Americans involved” in the driving of those trucks from the pier to the shore. 

Israel will dedicate a brigade of troops to protect U.S. forces, which amounts to “thousands of soldiers, plus Israeli Navy ships and the Israeli Air Force,” the officials said. There are also three U.S. Navy destroyers in the region, and their proximity “is meaningful and complimentary to the overall effort,” the military official said. 

By the way: The Israelis said a mortar was launched toward the pier project Wednesday. United Nations officials took shelter during the incident and fortunately no one was harmed, the Associated Press reported. It’s unclear who fired the mortar, but a Hamas official told AP the group plans to “resist any foreign military presence involved with the port project” in the weeks ahead. 

A top Republican seized on the mortar incident to criticize the project. “This has been an ill-conceived mission from the start,” Republican Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi said in a statement Thursday. Wicker has opposed the pier for several weeks, warning in a letter to the president in late March, “the [pier] mission entails a significant risk to U.S. personnel,” and “fails to address the main causes of the humanitarian crisis,” which he described as the complete surrender of Hamas and the release of all hostages. 

“President Biden should never have put our men and women in this position, and he should abandon this project immediately before any U.S. troops are injured,” Wicker said Wednesday. Notably, he did not say how exactly he would facilitate the surrender of Hamas, which has been at war with Israel for more than six consecutive months. 

“There were no Americans involved or even remotely close to the incident,” a senior military official said Thursday. “Without getting into the specifics on force protection,” he continued, “I would also add that the defensive umbrella around [the pier project] today looks nothing like it's going to look like when we actually execute the mission. It will be far more robust,” the official said.

Welcome to this Friday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with Bradley Peniston. 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 1954, clinical trials for Jonas Salk's polio vaccine began in Fairfax County, Virginia.

After a two-week lull, the Iran-backed Houthis resumed their attacks on ships along the Yemeni coast, including the U.S.-flagged vessel MV Yorktown while it transited the Gulf of Aden on Wednesday. 

The Houthis warned on Monday they would “escalate their operations against Zionist navigation and those associated with it in the Red and Arab Seas and the Indian Ocean.” The U.S.-designated terrorist group also claimed credit for attacking a U.S. Navy destroyer nearby and the Israeli ship MSC Veracruz in the Indian Ocean on Wednesday, according to Reuters

UK destroyer HMS Diamond shot down the ballistic missile headed for Yorktown, the Brits announced Thursday, crediting their Sea Viper missile system for the shootdown. 

The Diamond has been in the region since March, and previously shot down two other drones using Sea Ceptor missiles. The British vessel was also in the region during December and January, and repelled “three separate attacks by Houthi rebels, successfully destroying nine drones using her world-class Sea Viper missile system and guns,” according to the Royal Navy. More here

The U.S. military also destroyed four drones that were airborne over Yemen on Wednesday. U.S. forces separately destroyed a drone boat and another aerial drone over Yemen on Thursday, Central Command officials said

April had been a relatively quiet month for Houthi attacks along the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden. The group did contribute drones to Iran’s April 13 attack against Israel, but did no apparent damage. 

Trendspotting: Cargo transits through the Bab el-Mandeb strait, off the Yemeni coast, are down 60% from normal volume, industry watcher Lloyd’s List reported Wednesday. 

Expert opinion: The U.S. may soon need to corral some unity at the United Nations Security Council if it hopes to quell Houthi attacks along the Yemeni coast, former deputy U.S. special envoy for Yemen Allison Minor writes in War on the Rocks this week. 

Such rare unity was achieved in January, she notes, when Russia and China declined to veto a resolution condemning Houthi attacks. “This decision was likely motivated by their economic equities in the Red Sea, combined with quiet diplomatic engagement from regional actors,” she writes. And that quiet engagement should continue, especially with regard to officials in Riyadh. Read on, here

Read more: 

U.S. to send Ukraine even more ATACMS. On Thursday, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan confirmed recent reporting, and months of rumors, that the Pentagon had already begun sending the missile, which Kyiv had long requested and which the White House had declined to send, saying Moscow might construe it as provocative.

The shipments began in March, and the U.S. “will continue to provide” a “significant number,” Sullivan told Defense One’s Patrick Tucker and other reporters at the White House. Read on, here.

Update: The U.S. military is pulling some of its troops out of Chad, U.S. officials said Thursday, according to Reuters and the New York Times. The possibility had been expected to a certain degree, especially considering a general there ordered the U.S. to stop operating out of the Adji Kossei air base in the capital city of Ndjamena, according to the Wall Street Journal, reporting Saturday.  

Seventy-five Green Berets are leaving Chad in what the Pentagon described as a “temporary step” ahead of elections on May 6. Those troops, largely consisting of Alabama’s 20th Special Forces National Guard unit, will relocate elsewhere in the region, leaving behind a contingent estimated to be around 25 troops. “A handful of other U.S. military personnel work in the embassy or in different advisory jobs and are not affected by the decision to withdraw,” according to the Times.

At the U.S. Army’s special-ops school, cadre are now implementing some of the biggest changes in a generation. Ukraine, robotics, and more are driving a six-year plan to improve training in irregular warfare, technology, and psyops. Defense One’s Sam Skove reported Thursday from North Carolina’s Fort Liberty, here.

That’s it for this week. Stay safe, and we’ll see you on Monday.