Houthis target U.S. warship, commercial vessels in the Red Sea

Note: This article was updated to include CENTCOM’s statement on the attacks, and the attack on the Sophie II.

The Iranian-backed Houthis fired missiles and drones at three commercial vessels and a U.S. warship in the Red Sea. The Houthis claimed credit for targeting the commercial vessels Unity Explorer and Number Nine, while the Pentagon confirmed that it downed missiles and drones that were fired from Yemen. Today’s attack is the latest by the Houthis against international shipping, which the terror group claims is designed to support Hamas as Israel targets it in Gaza.

Two of the drones were flying toward the USS Carney before they were shot down, a U.S. defense official told FDD’s Long War Journal. U.S. Central Command later confirmed that the U.S. Carney shot down three drones that were headed for the warship.

The USS Carney responded to a distress call from Unity Explorer, which was the target of an anti-ship ballistic missile, and then an unspecified missile, according to CENTCOM. The Unity Explorer incurred “minor damage” fro t he second missile attack.

The Number Nine “was struck by a missile fired from Houthi controlled areas in Yemen” but “reported damage and no casualties,” CENTCOM reported. The Sophie II was also “struck by a missile” but it is unclear if there were casualties or damage to the ship.

Additionally, an unnamed U.S. official told The Associated Press that the attack “had gone on for as much as five hours.”

Houthi military spokesman Yahya Saree claimed credit for the attack on the Unity Explorer and Number Nine.

“The first ship was targeted with a naval missile and the second ship with a naval drone,” Saree claimed.

“The operation occurred after the two ships rejected warning messages from Yemeni naval forces. The Yemeni armed forces continue to prevent Israeli ships from navigating the Red and Arab Seas until the Israeli aggression against our steadfast brothers in the Gaza Strip stops,” said Saree.

Today’s attack by the Houthis occurred just one day after an Iranian unmanned aerial vehicle harassed the Dwight D. Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group as it was operating in the Persian Gulf.

“Aircraft from Dwight D. Eisenhower Carrier Air Wing intercepts an Iranian UAV operating in an unsafe and unprofessional manner during aircraft carrier flight operations in the Arabian Gulf [Persian Gulf]. The U.S. Navy will continue to fly and sail where international law allows,” CENTCOM reported.

The Houthis possess ballistic and cruise missiles, as well as drones, and have used all three weapons systems against commercial vessels and U.S. warships since Hamas launched its deadly Oct. 7 attack on southern Israel. The Houthis, as part of Iran’s Axis of Resistance, as well as Iranian-backed militias in Iraq and Syria, have been targeting U.S. forces to drive America from the region.

The Houthis have a decade-long history of harassing and attacking commercial vessels operating in the Gulf of Aden, the Bab al Mandeb Strait, and the Red Sea, and have stepped up attacks on shipping and the U.S. military over the past two weeks. The attacks include the hijacking of the Galaxy Leader, a drone attack on the CMA CGM Symi, an anti-ship ballistic missile attack on the USS Mason, a potential drone attack on the USS Carney, and the destruction of a U.S. MQ-9 UAV.

The U.S. military has yet to respond to repeated attacks on U.S. warships and commercial vessels. The Biden administration fears an escalation of the conflict with the Houthis as well as Iranian-backed militias in Iraq and Syria. The militias in Iraq and Syria have launched more than 70 attacks on U.S. forces, while the U.S. has launched only five counter-strikes.

Also known as Ansar Allah, the Houthis have seized control of significant areas in northern Yemen, including the capital of Sana’a, since it launched its rebellion in 2014. Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps increasingly co-opted the Houthi movement since its formation in the 1990s. The IRGC has provided the Houthis with weapons, training, and financial support. Iran uses its network of militias and terrorist groups in Yemen, Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon to put pressure on Israel as well as the United States.

The Houthis are estimated to have 100,000 fighters under arms. The official motto of the Houthis is: “God is great, death to the U.S., death to Israel, curse the Jews, and victory for Islam.”

Joe Truzman is a research analyst at FDD's Long War Journal focused primarily on Palestinian militant groups and Hezbollah. Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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