US hints major response to Iran-backed militias is imminent

The Houthis say they are attacking ships because of Israel’s offensive in Gaza against Hamas.

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JERUSALEM – Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Thursday that it is time to further disable Iranian-backed militias that have attacked American forces and ships in the Middle East and that the United States is preparing to take significant action in response to the deaths of three US service members in Jordan. .

For days, the United States has hinted that attacks are imminent. While the threat of retaliation over Sunday’s deaths has led some militant groups to say they were halting hostilities, as of Thursday Yemen’s Houthi rebels were still attacking vessels and fired a ballistic missile at a Liberian-flagged container ship in the Red Sea.

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“At this point, it’s time to take away even more capacity than we’ve taken in the past,” Austin said Thursday in his first news conference since he was hospitalized Jan. 1 due to complications from prostate cancer treatment.

Previous US strikes have not deterred attacks. Since war between Israel and Hamas broke out in October, Iranian-backed militant groups have attacked U.S. bases in Iraq and Syria at least 166 times with rockets, missiles and one-way attack drones, prompting about a half-dozen U.S. counterstrikes against militants. facilities in both countries. The US military has also carried out airstrikes against Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen.

In the Red Sea, the Houthis have fired on commercial and military ships nearly 40 times since November. In the latest attack, a ballistic missile was fired at a Liberian-flagged container ship on Thursday, U.S. defense officials said.

The attack occurred west of Hodeida, a port city in Yemen long controlled by rebels, said UK Maritime Trade Operations, a British military group that monitors Middle East waterways. He said the crew and ship were safe and the explosion occurred far from the ship’s starboard side.

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U.S. defense officials identified the attacked container ship as the Koi, a Bermudian-owned ship. His management could not immediately be reached for comment. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters. The Houthis did not claim responsibility for the attack.

Private security company Ambrey reported late Wednesday that a ship was attacked with a missile southwest of Aden, Yemen, near the Bab el-Mandeb Strait between the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. The Houthis claimed the attack also targeted koi, although U.S. officials had no immediate information about any attack Wednesday night.

The Houthis say they are attacking ships because of Israel’s offensive in Gaza against Hamas. But they have frequently attacked ships with weak or no ties to Israel, endangering shipping on a key route for global trade between Asia, the Middle East and Europe.

The Houthis attacked a commercial ship with a missile on January 26, causing a fire that burned for hours.

On Wednesday night, US F/A-18 fighter jets attacked and destroyed 10 Houthi drones that were prepared for launch, as well as a ground control station used by the rebels, the US military said. The United States also intercepted a ballistic missile and other drones that were already in the air during the day.

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