The United States is launching a multinational force to counter the maritime threat posed by Iran-backed Houthi terrorists in Yemen.
“This is an international challenge that demands collective action,” U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced early Tuesday in Bahrain. “Therefore, today I am announcing the establishment of Operation Prosperity Guardian, an important new multinational security initiative.”
Major shipping companies have suspended operations through the Bab el-Mandeb Strait in recent days amid daily drone and ballistic-missile attacks emanating from Houthi-controlled Yemen. The rebels have also attempted to attack Israeli territory multiple times after declaring their support for Hamas terrorists fighting Israeli forces in Gaza.
Austin said that the international mission will include the United Kingdom, Bahrain, Canada, France, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Seychelles and Spain.
Notably, Bahrain is the only Arab country to publicly sign on to the initiative, although a U.S. defense official told the Associated Press that several other countries have joined the effort but prefer to remain anonymous.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken held a call with Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan on Monday in which he condemned the Houthi attacks.
“The secretary also condemned continued attacks by the Houthis on commercial vessels operating in international waters in the southern Red Sea and urged cooperation among all partners to uphold maritime security,” the State Department said.
As part of the operation, several countries will conduct joint patrols while others will provide intelligence support in the southern Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden.
The United States is also calling on the United Nations Security Council to take action against the Houthi attacks. The AP obtained a letter on Monday from U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield to Council members stating that the Houthis continue to threaten “navigational rights and freedoms, international maritime security, and international commerce.”
The 15-member body met in a closed-door session on Monday to discuss the issue but no immediate action was taken.
The USS Carney and the USS Mason have been deployed to the Bab el-Mandeb Strait to deter and respond to attacks.
The United States has not directly attacked the Houthis in Yemen or struck any of their military infrastructure. Austin did not answer a question on Monday as to why the United States has not conducted any counterstrikes.
The Houthis attacked two commercial shipping vessels in the southern Red Sea on Monday—Norway’s Swan Atlantic, sailing under the Cayman Islands flag, and the Panamanian-registered MSC Clara.
U.S. Central Command said that the Swan Atlantic was attacked by a drone and anti-ship ballistic missile, while the MSC Clara reported an explosion nearby.
British energy giant BP on Monday became the latest company to announce a halt to shipping via the Red Sea amid an escalation in Houthi attacks.
BP joins a list of shipping companies that have stopped sending vessels through the Suez Canal-Red Sea-Bab el-Mandeb route, including Evergreen, Maersk, Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC), Hapag-Lloyd and CMA-CGM.
A total of 55 ships have been rerouted away from the Red Sea to the Cape of Good Hope in southern Africa, a much longer route, Globes reported on Monday, citing figures released on Sunday by Suez Canal chairman Osama Rabie. The expected increase in this number could have a major economic impact on Egypt, and the prices of goods and commodities.
Austin discussed the Houthi threat while visiting Israel on Monday as part of a Mideast diplomatic swing.
“In the Red Sea, we’re leading a multinational maritime task force to uphold the bedrock principle of freedom of navigation. Iran’s support for Houthi attacks on commercial vessels must stop,” Austin said. He went on to say that the United States “will continue to provide Israel with the equipment that you need to defend your country,” including “critical munitions, tactical vehicles and air-defense systems.”