US and UK airstrikes against Houthis in Yemen carried out with Canadian support

OTTAWA – U.S. and British forces, supported by Canada and other allies, attacked more than a dozen sites used by the Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen on Thursday.

President Joe Biden says the attacks were aimed at demonstrating that allies will not tolerate the group’s attacks on ships in the Red Sea.

The US-led operation in the region was launched in response to a Houthi campaign of drone and missile attacks against commercial ships that began after the start of the war between Israel and Hamas.

The Canadian Armed Forces deployed three staff officers to join Operation Prosperity Guardian in December.

Thursday was the first military action taken by the coalition, which Biden said came after attempts at diplomatic negotiations.

It also came a week after the White House and partner countries warned the Houthis to end attacks or face possible military action.

In a statement, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said the Royal Air Force carried out targeted attacks on military facilities used by the Houthis. The Defense Ministry said four Cyprus-based fighter jets were involved in the attacks.

In response to questions in late December about Canada’s contribution to the Red Sea operation, Canadian officials said the United States had asked its allies for support in the form of ships, planes and operations personnel.

“Immediately, Canada decided to provide three General Staff officers; however, the Canadian Armed Forces continue to monitor the situation and examine potential opportunities to support (the operation) in the long term,” a Department of National Defense spokesperson said in an email on Dec. 22.

The governments of Australia, Bahrain, Canada, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand and South Korea joined those of the U.S. and the U.K. in issuing a statement Wednesday saying that while the goal is to reduce tensions and restore stability in the Red Sea, the Allies will not hesitate to defend lives and protect commerce in this critical waterway.

Earlier this week, Houthi rebels fired their largest barrage of drones and missiles at ships in the Red Sea. American and British ships and American fighter jets shot down 18 drones, two cruise missiles and one anti-ship missile. And on Thursday, the Houthis fired an anti-ship ballistic missile into the Gulf of Aden, which was spotted by a commercial ship, but missed.

The rebels, who have carried out 27 attacks with dozens of drones and missiles since November 19, had warned that any attack by US forces on their sites in Yemen would provoke a fierce military response.

A senior Houthi official, Ali al-Qahoum, promised retaliation. “The battle will be bigger…and beyond the imagination and expectations of the Americans and the British,” he said in a post on X.

The Houthis did not immediately provide any information on damage or casualties.

A senior administration official said that while the United States expects the strikes to degrade the Houthis’ capabilities, “we wouldn’t be surprised to see some kind of response.” Officials said the United States used fighter jets based on the Navy aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower and Air Force fighter jets, while Tomahawk missiles were fired from Navy destroyers and a submarine.

The Houthis said their attacks are aimed at stopping Israel’s war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Their targets increasingly have little or no connection to Israel and endanger a crucial trade route linking Asia and the Middle East to Europe.

About 12 percent of global trade typically passes through the waterway separating Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, including oil, natural gas, grain and everything from toys to electronics.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 11, 2024.

— With files from The Associated Press

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