US and UK launch new strikes at Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen

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The US and UK launched another round of joint air strikes against Houthi targets in Yemen on Monday, the second time that Britain has been directly involved in the military action targeting the Iran-backed rebel group.

The two allies’ militaries struck eight Houthi targets in Yemen, including an underground storage site and locations used for missiles and air surveillance, a statement from the US and the UK said.

The bombardment was the eighth time the US has struck Houthi targets in Yemen since January 11, when President Joe Biden authorised a military campaign in response to the rebel group’s attacks on vessels sailing through the Red Sea, a critical shipping lane for global trade.

The widening military effort has raised fears that the US and its allies could be drawn into a wider regional war, even if they say they are seeking to avoid one.

“Our aim remains to de-escalate tensions and restore stability in the Red Sea, but let us reiterate our warning to Houthi leadership: we will not hesitate to defend lives and the free flow of commerce in one of the world’s most critical waterways in the face of continued threats,” the joint statement said.

News of the strikes came after Biden and UK prime minister Rishi Sunak spoke by telephone on Monday to discuss the Houthi attacks on Red Sea vessels, and “reiterated their commitment to freedom of navigation, international commerce, and defending mariners from illegal and unjustifiable attacks”, said a White House account of the call.

The two leaders “undertook to continue efforts” to deter the Houthi attacks, a Downing Street spokesperson said. The effort would include “putting diplomatic pressure on Iran to cease their support of Houthi activity” and more military action as needed.

UK defence secretary Grant Shapps said Monday’s attacks, which involved four Royal Air Force Typhoon FGR4s supported by a pair of Voyager tankers, would “deal another blow to [the Houthis’] limited stockpiled and ability to threaten global trade”.

Houthi rebels have said their attacks were in response to Israel’s bombardment of the Gaza Strip since it launched its war against Hamas in October. The Houthis have carried out more than 30 attacks on international and commercial vessels since mid-November.

The Houthis are backed by Iran, which has also menaced western shipping interests in the region, while its proxy groups have launched attacks on US military and other personnel in Iraq and Syria.

The US military campaign has so far failed to deter the Houthis, who have continued to target commercial and military vessels passing close to Yemeni shores.

Australia, Bahrain, Canada and the Netherlands also signed the statement announcing the attacks on Monday, although their militaries have not been involved in the strikes. Several other US allies including France and Saudi Arabia are not involved in the coalition against the Houthis.