U.S. targets Houthi anti-ship missiles in “self-defense” strikes

The U.S. military continues to target Houthi anti-ship missiles that are poised to strike shipping in the Red Sea and the Bab Al Mandeb Strait. The attacks against Houthi missiles are no longer being conducted under the aegis of an international coalition, but directly by the U.S. military.

U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) announced that it destroyed 18 Houthi anti-ship missiles as they were deployed on launch rails between Jan. 17 – 20. The Houthis launched two anti-ship ballistic missiles and one drone, which struck a merchant vessel, during the same timeframe (see timeline below).

The attacks on Houthi missiles are no longer being claimed by an international coalition, as the initial two strikes were. Both the U.S. and the United Kingdom launched the initial attack on Houthis military targets. A small number of other countries said they provided support for the initial strikes. All strikes since Jan. 13 have been claimed only by the U.S. military.

The U.S. government has continually issued contradictory statements that it seeks to restore deterrence, that it does not wish to escalate the fighting, and it is not “at war with the Houthis,” even as the Houthis have directly attacked U.S. warships and U.S. owned ships passing through the Red Sea. Instead, U.S. officials have said the strikes against Houthi military targets are in “self-defense”.

“We are not at war with the Houthis,” said Pentagon spokesperson Sabrina Singh on Jan. 18. “The Houthis are the ones that continue to launch cruise missiles, anti-ship missiles at innocent mariners…What we are doing, with our partners, is self-defense.”

The Houthis, with the support of Iran, are doing their part to defeat the U.S. and Israel as the latter battles Hamas and its terrorist allies in Gaza. Iran has assembled its Axis of Resistance, which includes the Yemen-based Houthis, Lebanese Hezbollah, the constellation of Iraqi and Syrian militias, and Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and other Palestinian terror groups, to drive the U.S. from the Middle East and isolate and defeat Israel.

Timeline of U.S. and Houthi activities since Jan. 17:

Jan. 17: A Houthi drone (described by CENTCOM as a “one-way attack UAS,” or Unmanned Aircraft System, hit the Merchant Vessel Genco Picardy in the Gulf of Aden. No casualties were reported, however the ship was damaged.

Jan. 18: U.S. Central Command struck “14 Iran-backed Houthi missiles that were loaded to be fired in Houthi controlled areas in Yemen.” The Houthi missiles were “on launch rails” when they were hit.

Jan. 18: The Houthis “launched two anti-ship ballistic missiles” at the Merchant Vessel Chem Ranger. The missiles missed the vessel.

Jan. 19: U.S. Central Command attacked and destroyed “three Houthi anti-ship missiles that were aimed into the Southern Red Sea and were prepared to launch.”

Jan. 20: U.S. Central Command attacked a Houthi anti-ship missile that “was prepared to launch.”

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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