The Pentagon, on Monday, announced an initiative to protect commercial traffic in the region after almost two months of attacks on merchant ships in the Red Sea by forces in Yemen.
Operation Prosperity Guardian is a multi-national push to ensure freedom of navigation in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden under the structure of the existing Combined Task Force 153, according to the statement from Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin.
“Countries that seek to uphold the foundational principle of freedom of navigation must come together to tackle the challenge posed by this non-state actor launching ballistic missiles and uncrewed aerial vehicles (UAVs) at merchant vessels from many nations lawfully transiting international waters,” reads the statement from Austin.
“This is an international challenge that demands collective action.”
CTF-153 is an existing group that’s run by the Bahrian-based Combined Maritime Forces partnership and tasked with Red Sea security. The CTF was established last year and has been commanded by both U.S. and Egyptian naval forces.
According to the statement participants, “include the United Kingdom, Bahrain, Canada, France, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Seychelles and Spain, to jointly address security challenges in the southern Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden.”
As of Monday, details on what ships will be involved in the force were not available, a Pentagon spokesperson told USNI News Monday following the announcement.
The U.S. Navy has at least three destroyers in the vicinity of the Bab el Mandeb strait between the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden – USS Carney (DDG-64), USS Mason (DDG-87) and USS Thomas Hudner (DDG-116) have all operated in the region. The U.K. Royal Navy guided-missile destroyer HMS Diamond (D34) and the French Navy guided-missile frigate FS Languedoc (653) have operated in the Red Sea as well.
All of the ships have intercepted and destroyed weapons launched from Yemen towards ships in the Red Sea. Those weapons include guided cruise-missiles, short-range ballistic missiles and scores of Iranian-built Shahed delta-winged drones.
On Saturday, Carney shot down 14 drones launched Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen that were headed toward a commercial ship, reported USNI News.
On Monday, Houthi forces in Yemen claimed attacks on two merchant ships in the Red Sea – MV Swan Atlantic and MSC Clara.
Starting on Oct. 17, the Houthis have attacked ships moving near the maritime chokepoint at the Bab el Mandeb at first linked to Israel or Isralei interests and then sailing to or from Israel. The Iran-backed Houthis are connecting the attacks to the ongoing conflict in Southern Israel between Hamas and the Israel Defense Forces.
“Any escalation in Gaza is an escalation in the Red Sea, and any calm in Gaza is considered a calm in the Red Sea, “ said senior Houthi military leader Yusuf Al Madani via Al Jazeera.
“Any country or party that comes between us and Palestine, we will confront it.”
As a result, more and more merchant ships are avoiding the Red Sea and time-saving Suez Canal route to Europe and instead taking a detour of several thousand miles around the southern tip of Africa. Among the shipping companies that are avoiding the Red Sea are the oil company BP and container shippers Hapag Lloyd and Maersk..
Ahead of the creation of the Operation Prosperity Guardian, both the Pentagon and the White House have downplayed the attacks in the Red Sea as not directly targeting U.S. forces in the region. France and the U.K. have both said their ships have come under direct attack from weapons launched from Yemen.
Pentagon officials have not acknowledged that the U.S. military would make a commensurate response on target in Yemen as a result of the ongoing drone and missile launches.
“We’re not in an armed conflict with the Houthis. We have seen drones and missiles shot from Houthi-controlled areas within Yemen,” Deputy Pentagon Press Secretary Sabrina Singh told reporters earlier this month. “Not necessarily targeting our ships but of course targeting most likely commercial vessels that are transiting through the Red Sea.
Over the weekend, the U.S. moved aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69) and its escorts to the Gulf of Aden – between Somalia and Yemen, according to USNI News Fleet and Marine Tracker. Shipspotters also saw guided-missile destroyer USS Laboon (DDG-58) enter the Red Sea from the Suez Canal on Monday.