Long-awaited retaliatory strikes on Houthi-linked targets in Yemen, though expansive, underscore the Biden administration’s characteristic reticence to avoid provoking Iran, experts told the Daily Caller News Foundation.
The U.S. and United Kingdom militaries, with help from four more nations, launched expansive strikes with aircraft, warships and submarines on munitions depots and launch sites for weapons the Houthis have used to target international shipping in the Red Sea on Thursday night Washington, D.C. time. Initial reports suggested the militants themselves emerged largely unscathed from the bombardment, however, suggesting the administration deliberately limited strikes to avoid appearances of seeking to eliminate the Iran-backed group or trigger Iran to further escalate.
“The U.S. has shown great restraint in only shooting down direct attacks on commercial shipping and our naval vessels by the Iranian backed Houthis. The air and missile strikes last night were the right thing to do and overdue,” Mick Mulroy, a former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Middle East, told the DCNF.
“I believe it was to limit the strikes to the direct threat,” Mulroy said, adding that the limited strikes also leaves room for the U.S. to adjust its own response if necessary.
U.S. Central Command’s Air Force component executed strikes on more than 60 targets at 16 different locations, “including command and control nodes, munitions depots, launching systems, production facilities, and air defense radar systems,” U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Alex Grynkewich, commander of U.S. Air Forces Central, said in a statement.
Within an hour, a second round of airstrikes took place at 12 additional locations, Lt. Gen. Douglas Sims, director of operations for the Joint Staff, said on a call with reporters Friday.
More than 1o0 of various kinds of munitions rained down on the Houthi targets, Sims said.
U.S. Navy aircraft from the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower aircraft carrier, the guided-missile cruiser USS Philippine Sea and guided-missile destroyers USS Gravely and USS Mason, participated, Sims said. An Ohio-class guided missile submarine also, participated.
“This was not necessarily about casualties as much as it was about degrading capability. We know precisely the capability that the Houthis have been employing against international shipping in the Red Sea and Bab al-Mandeb,” Sims said, and the strikes were aimed at destroying those assets.
“We feel pretty confident we did good work on that,” he said.
Associated Press reporters and witnesses who spoke to the outlet heard or saw multiple explosions in the capital city of Sanaa, in Hodieda’s western port area and in the cities Taiz and Dhamar south of Sanaa. The Houthis said the attacks killed at least five people and wounded six, The Associated Press reported.
“Yesterday’s strikes against the Houthis appear to be more about messaging the Houthis to cease attacks than about a serious effort to destroy Houthi military capabilities. To achieve the latter, a sustained campaign is required,” Bill Roggio, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told the DCNF.
The strikes functioned to send a message and were likely tailored to minimize an Iranian response, Victoria Coates, a former deputy national security adviser in the Trump administration who now heads the Heritage Foundation’s foreign policy house, agreed. But, she also said the coalition strikes will “probably not” prevent future attacks.
“This cost us a whole lot more than it cost them,” she told the DCNF, referring to the Houthis.
Anticipation built as news of the imminent strikes began to leak in the preceding hours.
“It may have been that we involved multiple countries moving multiple assets. I hope it wasn’t so Iran could move its personnel, in which case it was another move by the Biden admin to prioritize deescalation as in we have to do this but we intend only to hit equipment,” Michael Allen, the managing director of defense and intelligence advisory firm Beacon Global Strategies, said in comments received by the DCNF.
On Tuesday, the Houthis carried out a “complex attack” on international shipping, CENTCOM said in a statement. Three guided-missile destroyers, the USS Mason, USS Gravely and USS Laboon, and F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter jets from the Eisenhower engaged eight Iranian-made one-way attack drones, two anti-ship cruise missiles and one anti-ship ballistic missile. A U.K. warship also repelled drone attacks.
That attack tipped the balance in the Biden administration’s calculus, administration officials said Thursday evening, according to a transcript of a call with reporters. The president has demonstrated a pattern of favoring diplomatic options and forgoing military action until necessary.
“If not for this defensive mission, we have no doubt that ships would have been struck, perhaps even sunk, including, in one case, a commercial ship full of jet fuel,” the administration official said. Attacks in a waterway hosting roughly 15% of seaborne trade disrupted shipping and put mariners’ lives in danger, the official said.
President Joe Biden requested response options from his national security team after the Tuesday attack, the senior military and administration officials said. At a meeting of National Security Council leaders, Biden directed Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, who is conducting his duties from the hospital as he recovers from complications arising from surgery to treat prostate cancer, to carry out the strikes.
Before that, at a Jan. 1 meeting following an attack on the Maersk Hangzhou, the president had requested military options to be presented but directed his team to accelerate ongoing diplomatic efforts, the official said. U.S. helicopters from the nearby aircraft carrier and destroyer had come under fire from militants on four boats and retaliated by destroying three of the boats and killing several of the crew.
Degradation to the Houthis’ ability to carry out additional attacks was “significant,” the senior military official said.
As of Thursday, the Houthis had launched at least 27 drone and missile attacks against commercial vessels transiting near the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, the U.S. military said Thursday.
Sims on Friday confirmed another ballistic missile launched at another commercial vessel Friday, missing its target by no more than 500 meters.
Iran-backed proxy militias in Iraq and Syria continue to mount attacks on U.S. troops. As of Tuesday, bases hosting U.S. military personnel in the two countries sustained at least 130 attacks, the Pentagon said.
In the process of defending against those attacks, U.S. forces have downed dozens of drones and missiles targeting or nearing American personnel. One soldier was critically injured in a Dec. 25 attack.
Biden has ordered retaliatory attacks on facilities associated with the militant groups and Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which oversees Tehran’s proxy operations, four times since Oct. 27.
“We must hope these operations indicate a true shift in the Biden Administration’s approach to Iran and its proxies that are engaging in such evil and wreaking such havoc. They must understand there is a serious price to pay for their global acts of terror and their attacks on U.S. personnel and commercial vessels,” House Speaker Mike Johnson said in a statement.
The Houthis have promised escalation.
“The battle will be bigger … and beyond the imagination and expectation of the Americans and the British,” “Ali al-Qahoum, a high-ranking Houthi leader, said, according to the AP.
“We would not be surprised to see some sort of response,” a senior administration official said.
Micaela Burrow on January 14, 2024