Escalating Tensions: U.S. Expands Military Strikes on Houthis in Yemen

The United States, in collaboration with Britain and several other allies, has intensified its military campaign against Houthi militants in Yemen. This move, marking the eighth round of strikes in nearly two weeks, signifies the Biden administration’s commitment to an extended and, for now, open-ended effort against the Iran-backed group. The strikes targeted eight sites controlled by the Houthis, underlining the gravity of the situation as the region teeters on the edge of a broader conflict.

Nature and Scope of the Strikes:

The latest strikes, occurring on Monday, were a coordinated effort involving the United States and Britain. The military operation, known as Poseidon Archer, focused on hitting multiple targets at each site. These strikes were more extensive than recent limited attacks on individual Houthi missiles, which were intercepted before posing a threat to ships in the Red Sea or the Gulf of Aden.

The targets of the strikes included radars, drone and missile sites, as well as underground weapons storage bunkers. While the scale of these strikes was substantial, it fell short of the massive retaliatory salvos on January 11, which targeted over 60 sites across Yemen. The nuanced approach reflects the Biden administration’s attempt to degrade the Houthis’ capability to disrupt sea lanes without causing extensive casualties among Houthi fighters and commanders.

International Coalition and Support:

The international coalition participating in the strikes extends beyond the United States and Britain. The Netherlands, Australia, Canada, and Bahrain have joined in providing logistics, intelligence, and other support, reiterating their commitment to defending lives and ensuring the free flow of commerce in crucial waterways. This unified effort underscores the global concern about the destabilizing actions of the Houthi militants in the strategically vital region.

Houthi Defiance and Motivation:

Despite the intensified airstrikes, the Houthi militants remained defiant. In a statement, a Houthi military spokesman, Yahya Sarea, asserted that retaliation against American and British attacks was inevitable. The group continues to assert its right to attack shipping lanes critical for global trade as a protest against Israel’s military campaign in Gaza against Hamas.

President Biden’s Commitment:

President Biden, speaking on Thursday, affirmed the continuation of U.S. airstrikes against the Houthis. He acknowledged that the strikes had not halted Houthi activities but emphasized the determination to persist in the campaign. The President’s commitment underscores the complexity of the situation and the challenges involved in achieving a lasting impact on Houthi capabilities.

Emerging U.S. Strategy:

Jon Finer, a deputy national security adviser, provided insights into the emerging U.S. strategy. He highlighted the Houthis’ possession of advanced weapons, often supplied or facilitated by Iran. The strategy involves targeting these weapon stockpiles to limit the group’s ability to conduct sustained attacks over time. However, officials acknowledge that this approach will require time to yield significant results.

Effectiveness and Challenges:

Despite the ongoing air and naval strikes, the effectiveness of the campaign is a subject of debate. The strikes began in response to a series of Houthi drone and missile attacks on commercial shipping in the Red Sea since November. U.S. officials had warned the Houthis of serious consequences if these attacks persisted.

However, assessments indicate that the strikes have, at best, damaged or destroyed only 30 to 40 percent of the Houthis’ offensive capability. The mobile nature of Houthi platforms presents a challenge, as they can be easily moved or hidden. Critics argue that the current approach may not be sufficient to compel the Houthis to cease their activities.

Intelligence Challenges:

Intelligence agencies have faced challenges in collecting data on the Houthi infrastructure. While the recent attacks prompted a swift effort to identify potential targets, some officials note that significant resources were not dedicated to this task in previous years. The evolving nature of the conflict has led analysts to scramble to catalogue Houthi air defences, command hubs, munitions depots, and facilities for drone and missile storage and production.

Republican Criticism:

Many Republicans in Congress and some former senior U.S. military officials express scepticism about the effectiveness of the current strategy. General Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., a retired head of the military’s Central Command, emphasized the need to inflict significant harm on the Houthis to compel them to halt their actions. As of now, he contends that this threshold has not been met.

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