Biden says US to keep striking Houthis as they continue attacking ships in Red Sea

Acknowledging Iran-backed rebels in Yemen have not faltered in their attacks on shipping, US president nevertheless commits to proceeding on charted course

President Joe Biden walks to speak to the media before boarding Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House, Thursday, January 18, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Yuri Gripas)
President Joe Biden walks to speak to the media before boarding Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House, Thursday, January 18, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Yuri Gripas)

US President Joe Biden said Thursday that US military strikes against Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen will continue, but he acknowledged that the American and British bombardment has yet to stop shipping attacks by the militants on vessels in the Red Sea.

Biden said the US would continue the strikes in an exchange with reporters before departing the White House for a domestic policy speech in North Carolina.

“When you say working, are they stopping the Houthis, no. Are they going to continue, yes,” Biden said.

On Wednesday, the US military fired another wave of ship- and submarine-launched missile strikes against Houthi-controlled sites, marking the fourth time in days it has directly targeted the group in Yemen as violence that ignited in the wake of the October 7 Hamas attacks in southern Israel and subsequent war in Gaza continues to spill over in the Middle East.

The strikes were launched from the Red Sea and hit 14 missiles that the command deemed an “imminent threat.”

Hours later, a US-owned ship in the Gulf of Aden came under attack Wednesday from a bomb-carrying drone launched by Houthi rebels.

The attack caused a fire onboard the vessel, which was extinguished, the ship’s captain said in a statement. “Vessel and crew are safe and proceeding to next port of call,” the statement added.

Brig. Gen. Yahya Saree, a military spokesman for the Houthis, identified the ship attacked as the bulk carrier Genco Picardy.

Houthi fighters and tribesmen stage a rally against the US and the UK strikes on Houthi-run military sites near Sanaa, Yemen, on Sunday, Jan. 14, 2024. (AP Photo)

The Houthis “confirm that a response to the American and British attacks is inevitably coming, and that any new attack will not remain without response and punishment,” Saree said in a prerecorded video address.

He claimed the ship suffered a “direct hit.”

The attack followed an official announcement Wednesday that the US has put the Houthis back on its list of specially designated global terrorists, three years after they were removed. The sanctions that come with the formal designation are meant to sever violent extremist groups from their sources of financing.

The move is aimed at blocking the group’s access to the global financial system, though it falls short of the more far-reaching option at the Biden administration’s disposal — re-labeling the Houthis as a “foreign terrorist organization.”

The Iran-backed group said it would continue to target ships using the vital Red Sea shipping lanes and would not be deterred by the response.

“We will not give up targeting Israeli ships or ships heading towards ports in occupied Palestine… in support of the Palestinian people,” the group’s spokesman Mohammed Abdelsalam told Al Jazeera TV, adding that they would respond to new strikes on Yemen by the United States or Britain.

The Houthis have launched dozens of attacks since November on vessels in the Red Sea, in what they claim is an effort to support Palestinians during Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza. However, many of the ships targeted have had no ties to Israel whatsoever.

The attacks are part of a broad response to the Gaza conflict by a so-called Axis of Resistance, which includes the Houthis, Hamas and Hezbollah — all of whom are backed by Iran.

The Houthis, who rally under the banner “Death to America, Death to Israel, Curse on the Jews, Victory to Islam,” have also launched a number of drones and missiles directly at Israel.

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