U.S. 5th Fleet CO: Houthi Strikes Not Just Targeting Israel-Affiliated Ships

January 4, 2024 6:24 PM
Vice Adm. Brad Cooper, commander of U.S. 5th Fleet, speaks with sailors assigned to the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Carney (DDG-64) after presenting combat medals to sailors while the ship was in Bahrain, Jan. 2, 2023. US Navy Photo

The last dozen Houthi attacks on merchant traffic in the Red Sea have not targeted ships linked to or heading to or from Israel, in contrast to claims from the Iranian-backed group, the U.S. Naval Forces Central Command told reporters Thursday.

About 1,500 ships have passed safely through the Red Sea since Houthis in Yemen started attacking commercial traffic in the region, Vice Adm. Brad Cooper told reporters during a press call Thursday. Cooper attributes the safe transits in part to Operation Prosperity Guardian, the new coalition established last month between the United States and other allies to protect shipping in the Middle Eastern body of water.

“I think the operation being in place provides deterrent value,” Cooper said. “I think it’s also important to point out that over the course of the last dozen attacks, there has been no Israeli affiliation at all. Thus, this turning into an international problem that requires an international solution.”

Tensions continue to flare in the Red Sea, even as the United States, along with Australia, Bahrain, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, New Zealand, Republic of Korea, Singapore and the United Kingdom sent a warning letter to the Houthis, urging the State Department-designated terrorist organization to stop attacking commercial ships in the Red Sea. The U.S. Department of Defense has continued to say the Houthis have not targeted U.S. ships although other countries, including France, have said they shot down Houthi missiles or drones after they attacked their ships.

Since Oct. 17, Houthi forces have said they are attacking ships that are affiliated with Israel or heading to or from the country.

The U.S. has shot down 61 Houthi missiles and drones combined, Cooper said. While the crew of USS Carney (DDG-64) was awarded a Combat Action Ribbon for its actions in the Red Sea, Cooper did not say that the ship had been targeted by the Houthis.

“And from a shipboard perspective, it’s very difficult to discern whether or not a missile is coming right at you, or the merchant vessels adjacent to you. So we’ve taken the appropriate approach of protecting ourselves and in downing these missiles using prudent self-defense. [It’s an] easy call,” Cooper said.

Houthis launched an unmanned aerial vehicle Thursday morning, which detonated in Red Sea shipping lanes, but no ships were hit, Cooper said. The attack brings the total to 25.

Houthi Minister of Defense Maj. Gen. Muhammad Al-Atifi warned that the Houthi response to the death of 10 Houthis killed when helicopter crews from USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69) and USS Gravely (DDG-107) returned fire could result in casualties, Yemeni-state run news outlet Saba reported.

“We say to the Zionists and those who support them that the Red Sea has turned into a trap for them, and their siege is in place until they abandon their siege and crimes against our Palestinian Arab Muslim people,” Al-Atifi said in a Thursday speech, Saba reported.

Heather Mongilio

Heather Mongilio

Heather Mongilio is a reporter with USNI News. She has a master’s degree in science journalism and has covered local courts, crime, health, military affairs and the Naval Academy.
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