ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 147

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US, Britain hit over 30 Houthi targets in fresh strikes on Iran-backed groups

Fighter jets and Tomahawk missiles fired from warships in Red Sea hit 13 sites across Yemen; Pentagon chief threatens further action

A handout picture released by the British Ministry of Defence on February 3, 2024 shows RAF Typhoon FRG4s being prepared to conduct strikes against targets in Yemen. (Cpl Samantha Drummee / MOD / AFP)
A handout picture released by the British Ministry of Defence on February 3, 2024 shows RAF Typhoon FRG4s being prepared to conduct strikes against targets in Yemen. (Cpl Samantha Drummee / MOD / AFP)

WASHINGTON — The United States and Britain struck 36 Houthi targets in Yemen on Saturday in a fresh wave of assaults meant to further disable Iran-backed groups that have relentlessly attacked American and international interests in the wake of the Israel-Hamas war, US officials told The Associated Press.

The latest strikes against the Houthis were launched by US warships and American and British fighter jets. The strikes follow an air assault in Iraq and Syria on Friday that targeted other Iranian-backed militias and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard in retaliation for the drone strike that killed three US troops in Jordan last weekend.

The Houthi targets were in 13 different locations and were struck by U.S. F/A-18 fighter jets from the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower aircraft carrier, by British Typhoon FGR4 fighter aircraft and by the Navy destroyers USS Gravely and the USS Carney firing Tomahawk missiles from the Red Sea, according to US officials and the U.K. Defense Ministry. The U.S. officials were not authorized to publicly discuss the military operation and spoke on condition of anonymity.

The US warned that its response after the soldiers’ deaths at the Tower 22 base in Jordan last Sunday would not be limited to one night, one target or one group. While there has been no suggestion the Houthis were directly responsible, they have been one of the prime US adversaries since Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7, killing more than 1,200 people and taking about 250 hostages. The Health Ministry in Hamas-ruled Gaza said that more than 26,000 people have been killed and more than 64,400 wounded in the Israeli military operation since the war began.

The Houthis have been conducting almost daily missile or drone attacks against commercial and military ships transiting the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden and they have made clear that they have no intention of scaling back their campaign despite pressure from the American and British campaign.

Mohammed al-Bukhaiti, a Houthi official, said “military operations against Israel will continue until the crimes of genocide in Gaza are stopped and the siege on its residents is lifted, no matter the sacrifices it costs us.” He wrote online that the “American-British aggression against Yemen will not go unanswered, and we will meet escalation with escalation.”

In this photo released by the US military’s Central Command on February 3, 2024, US Central Command forces stand next to a fighter jet on the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower aircraft carrier as strikes are carried out against Houthi targets in Yemen. (US Central Command/AFP)

The Biden administration has indicated that this is likely not the last of its strikes. The U.S. has blamed the Jordan attack on the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, a coalition of Iranian-backed militias. Iran has tried to distance itself from the drone strike, saying the militias act independently of its direction.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a statement that the military action, with support from Australia, Bahrain, Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands, and New Zealand, “sends a clear message to the Houthis that they will continue to bear further consequences if they do not end their illegal attacks on international shipping and naval vessels.”

He added: “We will not hesitate to defend lives and the free flow of commerce in one of the world’s most critical waterways.”

The Defense Department said the strikes targeted sites associated with the Houthis’ deeply buried weapons storage facilities, missile systems and launchers, air defense systems, radars and helicopters. The British military said it struck a ground control station west of Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, that has been used to control Houthi drones that have launched against vessels in the Red Sea.

President Joe Biden was briefed on the strikes before he left Delaware on Saturday for a West Coast campaign trip, according to an administration official.

US President Joe Biden, right, and first lady Jill Biden arrive on Marine One at Philadelphia International Airport in Philadelphia, Saturday, Feb. 3, 2024. (AP/Stephanie Scarbrough)

The latest strikes marked the third time the US and Britain had conducted a large joint operation to strike Houthi weapon launchers, radar sites and drones. The strikes in Yemen are meant to underscore the broader message to Iran that Washington holds Tehran responsible for arming, funding and training the array of militias and terror groups — from Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Gaza, the Islamic Resistance in Iraq and the Houthis in Yemen — who are behind attacks across the Mideast against US and international interests.

Video shared online by people in Sanaa included the sound of explosions and at least one blast was seen lighting up the night sky. Residents described the blasts as happening around buildings associated with the Yemeni presidential compound. The Houthi-controlled state-run news agency, SABA, reported strikes in al-Bayda, Dhamar, Hajjah, Hodeida, Taiz and Sanaa provinces.

Hours before the latest joint operation, the US took another self-defense strike on a site in Yemen, destroying six anti-ship cruise missiles, as it has repeatedly when it has detected a missile or drone ready to launch. The day before the strikes the U.S. destroyer Laboon and F/A-18s from the Eisenhower shot down seven drones fired from Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen into the Red Sea and the destroyer Carney shot down a drone fired in the Gulf of Aden and US forces took out four more drones that were prepared to launch.

The Houthis’ attacks have led shipping companies to reroute their vessels from the Red sea, sending them around Africa through the Cape of Good Hope — a much longer, costlier and less efficient passage. The threats also have led the US and its allies to set up a joint mission where warships from participating nations provide a protective umbrella of air defense for ships as they travel the critical waterway that runs from the Suez Canal down to the Bab el-Mandeb Strait.

During normal operations about 400 commercial vessels transit the southern Red Sea at any given time.

The US has blamed the Jordan attack on the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, a coalition of Iranian-backed militias. Iran has tried to distance itself from the drone strike, saying the militias act independently of its direction.

US President Joe Biden, right, stands as an Army carry team moves the transfer case containing the remains of US Army Sgt. Kennedy Ladon Sanders, 24, of Waycross, Ga., at Dover Air Force Base, Del., Friday, Feb. 2, 2024. Sanders was killed in a drone attack in Jordan on Jan. 28. (AP/Matt Rourke)

Hussein al-Mosawi, spokesperson for Harakat al-Nujaba, one of the main Iranian-backed militias in Iraq, condemned the earlier US strike in Iraq and said Washington “must understand that every action elicits a reaction.” But in the AP interview in Baghdad, he also struck a more conciliatory tone. “We do not wish to escalate or widen regional tensions,” he said.

Mosawi said the targeted sites in Iraq were mainly “devoid of fighters and military personnel at the time of the attack.”

Iraqi government spokesperson Bassim al-Awadi said in a statement 16 people, including civilians, were killed and there was “significant damage” to homes and private properties.

In this photo released by the US military’s Central Command on February 3, 2024, missiles are fired from a warship in the Red Sea against Houthi targets in Yemen. (US Central Command/AFP)

The US said it had informed Iraq about the operation before it started.

A US official said an initial battle damage assessment showed the US had struck each of its planned targets in addition to a few “dynamic targets” that popped up as the mission unfolded, including a surface-to-air missile site and drone launch sites. The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to provide details that were not yet public, did not have a casualty assessment.

The Iraqi government has been in a delicate position since a group of Iranian-backed Iraqi militias calling itself Islamic Resistance in Iraq began launching attacks on U.S. bases in Iraq and Syria on Oct. 18. The group described the strikes as retaliation for Washington’s support for Israel in the war in Gaza.

Behind the scenes, Iraqi officials have attempted to rein in the militias, while also condemning US retaliatory strikes as a violation of Iraqi sovereignty and calling for an exit of the 2,500 US troops who are in the country as part of an international coalition to fight IS. Last month, Iraqi and U.S. military officials launched formal talks to wind down the coalition’s presence, a process that will likely take years.

Houthi fighters stage a rally in support of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and against the US-led airstrikes on Yemen, in Sanaa, Yemen, January 29, 2024. (AP Photo/Osamah Abdulrahman)

Both the Houthi attacks on ships in the Red Sea and strikes by Iran-backed militias on US troops in Iraq and Syria have been launched as part of a campaign to support Hamas in its war against Israel, the groups claim. War between Hamas and Israel broke out on October 7 when some 3,000 Hamas terrorists infiltrated Israel from the Gaza Strip and committed atrocities that led to the deaths of about 1,200 people and the abduction of iver 250 hostages.

Israel has vowed to destroy Hamas in self-defense, launching an offensive that has led to the deaths of over 27,000 Palestinians, according to the Hamas-run Gazan health ministry. These numbers, however, cannot be independently verified and are believed to include over 10,000 Hamas gunmen killed in battle with Israel and Palestinians killed by misfired rockets.

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