US Navy faces its most intense combat since World War II against Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels

An HSC-7 helicopter lands on the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Laboon in the Red Sea, Wednesday on June 12, 2024. (AP)
An HSC-7 helicopter lands on the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Laboon in the Red Sea, Wednesday on June 12, 2024. (AP)
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Updated 15 June 2024
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US Navy faces its most intense combat since World War II against Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels

US Navy faces its most intense combat since World War II against Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels
  • The Houthis say the attacks are aimed at stopping the war in Gaza and supporting the Palestinians, though it comes as they try to strengthen their position in Yemen

ABOARD THE USS LABOON IN THE RED SEA: The US Navy prepared for decades to potentially fight the Soviet Union, then later Russia and China, on the world’s waterways. But instead of a global power, the Navy finds itself locked in combat with a shadowy, Iran-backed rebel group based in Yemen.
The US-led campaign against the Houthi rebels, overshadowed by the Israel-Hamas war in the Gaza Strip, has turned into the most intense running sea battle the Navy has faced since World War II, its leaders and experts told The Associated Press.
The combat pits the Navy’s mission to keep international waterways open against a group whose former arsenal of assault rifles and pickup trucks has grown into a seemingly inexhaustible supply of drones, missiles and other weaponry. Near-daily attacks by the Houthis since November have seen more than 50 vessels clearly targeted, while shipping volume has dropped in the vital Red Sea corridor that leads to the Suez Canal and into the Mediterranean.
The Houthis say the attacks are aimed at stopping the war in Gaza and supporting the Palestinians, though it comes as they try to strengthen their position in Yemen. All signs suggest the warfare will intensify — putting US sailors, their allies and commercial vessels at more risk.
“I don’t think people really understand just kind of how deadly serious it is what we’re doing and how under threat the ships continue to be,” Cmdr. Eric Blomberg with the USS Laboon told the AP on a visit to his warship on the Red Sea.
“We only have to get it wrong once,” he said. “The Houthis just have to get one through.”
Seconds to act
The pace of the fire can be seen on the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, where the paint around the hatches of its missile pods has been burned away from repeated launches. Its sailors sometimes have seconds to confirm a launch by the Houthis, confer with other ships and open fire on an incoming missile barrage that can move near or beyond the speed of sound.
“It is every single day, every single watch, and some of our ships have been out here for seven-plus months doing that,” said Capt. David Wroe, the commodore overseeing the guided missile destroyers.
One round of fire on Jan. 9 saw the Laboon, other vessels and F/A-18s from the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower shoot down 18 drones, two anti-ship cruise missiles and a ballistic missile launched by the Houthis.
Nearly every day — aside from a slowdown during the holy Muslim fasting month of Ramadan — the Houthis launch missiles, drones or some other type of attack in the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden and the narrow Bab el-Mandeb Strait that connects the waterways and separates Africa from the Arabian Peninsula.
The Navy saw periods of combat during the “Tanker Wars” of the 1980s in the Arabian Gulf, but that largely involved ships hitting mines. The Houthi assaults involve direct attacks on commercial vessels and warships.
“This is the most sustained combat that the US Navy has seen since World War II — easily, no question,” said Bryan Clark, a former Navy submariner and a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute. “We’re sort of on the verge of the Houthis being able to mount the kinds of attacks that the US can’t stop every time, and then we will start to see substantial damage. … If you let it fester, the Houthis are going to get to be a much more capable, competent, experienced force.”
Dangers at sea and in the air
While the Eisenhower appears to largely stay at a distance, destroyers like the Laboon spend six out of seven days near or off Yemen — the “weapons engagement zone,” in Navy speak.
Sea combat in the Mideast remains risky, something the Navy knows well. In 1987, an Iraqi fighter jet fired missiles that struck the USS Stark, a frigate on patrol in the Arabian Gulf during the Iran-Iraq war, killing 37 sailors and nearly sinking the vessel.
There’s also the USS Cole, targeted in 2000 by boat-borne Al-Qaeda suicide bombers during a refueling stop in Yemen’s port city of Aden, which killed 17 on board. AP journalists saw the Cole patrolling the Red Sea with the Laboon on Wednesday, the same day the Houthis launched a drone-boat attack against a commercial ship there that disabled the vessel.
That commercial ship was abandoned on Friday and left adrift and unlit in the Red Sea, the British military’s United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations center said.
Rear Adm. Marc Miguez, the Navy’s commander for its Carrier Strike Group Two, which includes the Eisenhower and supporting ships, said the Navy had taken out one underwater bomb-carrying drone launched by the Houthis as well during the campaign.
“We currently have pretty high confidence that not only is Iran providing financial support, but they’re providing intelligence support,” Miguez said. “We know for a fact the Houthis have also gotten training to target maritime shipping and target US warships.”
Asked if the Navy believed Iran picks targets for the Houthis, Miguez would only say there was “collaboration” between Tehran and the rebels. He also noted Iran continues to arm the Houthis, despite UN sanctions blocking weapons transfers to them.
Iran’s mission to the United Nations told the AP that Tehran “is adept at thwarting the US strategy in a way that not only strengthens (the Houthis) but also ensures compliance with the pertinent resolutions.”
The risk isn’t just on the water. The US-led campaign has carried out numerous airstrikes targeting Houthi positions inside Yemen, including what the US military describes as radar stations, launch sites, arsenals and other locations. One round of US and British strikes on May 30 killed at least 16 people, the deadliest attack acknowledged by the rebels.
The Eisenhower’s air crews have dropped over 350 bombs and fired 50 missiles at targets in the campaign, said Capt. Marvin Scott, who oversees all the air group’s aircraft. Meanwhile, the Houthis apparently have shot down multiple MQ-9 Reaper drones with surface-to-air missile systems.
“The Houthis also have surface-to-air capabilities that we have significantly degraded, but they are still present and still there,” Scott said. “We’re always prepared to be shot at by the Houthis.”
A stalemated war
Officers acknowledge some grumbling among their crew, wondering why the Navy doesn’t strike harder against the Houthis. The White House hasn’t discussed the Houthi campaign at the same level as negotiations over the Israel-Hamas war.
There are several likely reasons. The US has been indirectly trying to lower tensions with Iran, particularly after Tehran launched a massive drone-and-missile attack on Israel and now enriches uranium closer than ever to weapons-grade levels.
Meanwhile, there’s the Houthis themselves.
The US directly fighting the Houthis is something the leaders of the Zaydi Shiite group likely want. Their motto long has been “God is the greatest; death to America; death to Israel; curse the Jews; victory to Islam.” Combating the US and siding publicly with the Palestinians has some in the Mideast praising the rebels.
While the US and European partners patrol the waterways, Saudi Arabia largely has remained quiet, seeking a peace deal with the Houthis. Reports suggest some Mideast nations have asked the US not to launch attacks on the Houthis from their soil, making the Eisenhower’s presence even more critical. The carrier has had its deployment extended, while its crew has had only one port call since its deployment a week after the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel.
Meanwhile, the Houthi attacks continue to depress shipping through the region. Revenue for Egypt from the Suez Canal — a key source of hard currency for its struggling economy — has halved since the attacks began. AP journalists saw a single commercial ship moving through the once-busy waterway.
“It’s almost a ghost town,” Blomberg acknowledged.

 


UN envoy warns that threat of terrorism is `resurging’ with attacks by Daesh extremists

UN envoy warns that threat of terrorism is `resurging’ with attacks by Daesh extremists
Updated 4 sec ago
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UN envoy warns that threat of terrorism is `resurging’ with attacks by Daesh extremists

UN envoy warns that threat of terrorism is `resurging’ with attacks by Daesh extremists
  • Israel has attacked targets in Syria linked to Iran for years, but the strikes have escalated over the past five months as the war in Gaza and conflict between Iran-backed Hezbollah and Israeli forces on the Lebanon-Israel border continue

UNITED NATIONS: The top UN envoy for Syria told the Security Council on Monday that the threat of terrorism is “resurging” with attacks by Daesh extremists set to double this year, endangering civilians already facing a “protracted state of displacement and dire humanitarian conditions.”
UN Special Envoy Geir Pedersen said Syria is “riddled with armed actors, listed terrorist groups, foreign armies and front-lines” 13 years after President Bashar Assad’s crackdown on peaceful protests against his government turned to civil war. Nearly a half million people have died in the conflict and half the country’s pre-war population of 23 million has been displaced.
The Daesh group declared a self-styled caliphate in a large swath of territory in Syria and Iraq that it seized in 2014. It was declared defeated in Iraq in 2017 following a three-year battle that killed tens of thousands of people and left cities in ruins, but its sleeper cells remain in both countries.
Pedersen warned the Security Council of Syria’s delicate security situation.
“The threat of regional conflict cascading over Syria has not abated, particularly with an uptick in Israeli strikes on Syria,” Pedersen said.
Israel has attacked targets in Syria linked to Iran for years, but the strikes have escalated over the past five months as the war in Gaza and conflict between Iran-backed Hezbollah and Israeli forces on the Lebanon-Israel border continue.
US deputy ambassador Robert A. Wood blamed Iran, Assad’s greatest regional supporter, for the violence in Syria.
“Iran and its proxies and partners have only brought death and destruction and do nothing to help the Syrian people,” Wood said, calling on Assad to curb Iran’s influence.
The Syrian, Iranian, and Russian ambassadors to the UN strongly condemned Israel’s strikes on Syria.
Iranian Ambassador Amir Saeed Iravani said the attacks “flagrantly violate international humanitarian law” and are a “serious threat to regional peace and security.” He said Israel’s strikes add to the chaos created by Syria’s civil war.
Over 16 million people in Syria currently need humanitarian assistance and 7.2 million remain displaced in the “worst humanitarian crisis since the start of the conflict,” Ramesh Rajasingham, coordination director in the U,N. humanitarian office, told the council.
He added that “severely reduced humanitarian funding” exacerbates Syrians’ suffering during months of extreme heat, when rainwater dries up and a lack of basic sanitation infrastructure increases the risk of water-borne diseases.
In rebel-held northwest Syria, over 900,000 people, more than half children, are not receiving “critical water and sanitation support,” Rajasingham said.
Rajasingham and Pedersen called for increased humanitarian access to Syria and international funding. The 2024 UN humanitarian appeal for $4 billion remains only 20 percent funded, “seriously constraining” humanintarian work, Rajasingham said.
On the political front, Pedersen urged the Security Council to pursue Syrian-led peace negotiations with the involvement of “all major international stakeholders,” in line with a unanimously adopted 2015 resolution by the council.
“The conflict is ultimately a political one that can only be resolved when the Syrian parties are able to realize their legitimate aspirations,” Pedersen said.
Last week, Syria announced that all 185 candidates from Assad’s Baath party won parliamentary seats in the country’s elections, a seven-seat increase to the party’s majority.
Pedersen said the elections are “not a substitute” for the political process outlined in the 2015 Security Council resolution, while Wood called the elections a “sham” and a “rubber stamp on Bashar Assad’s continued dictatorship.”
Wood said the US “will not normalize relations with the Syrian regime or lift sanctions absent an authentic and enduring political solution.”

 


UK warned Israel over ‘out of control’ troops in 2002: archives

UK warned Israel over ‘out of control’ troops in 2002: archives
Updated 36 min 17 sec ago
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UK warned Israel over ‘out of control’ troops in 2002: archives

UK warned Israel over ‘out of control’ troops in 2002: archives
  • Then-US president George W. Bush complained in private call with UK prime minister Tony Blair that the hardline policies of Sharon were turning Arafat into a martyr similar to 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden, the files show
  • Israel has killed at least 39,006 Palestinians in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to data from the health ministry in the Hamas-ruled territory

LONDON: Britain accused Israel of allowing its troops to run "out of control" during a huge military operation in the occupied West Bank two decades ago, UK government archives showed Tuesday.
The newly-released files highlight Western concern over the Palestinian death toll during Operation Defensive Shield launched by then-Israeli premier Ariel Sharon in March 2002.
The comments are similar to concerns expressed by some Western allies over Israel's current military operations against Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
Britain's ambassador to Israel at the time warned Sharon's foreign policy adviser that the incursion by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) was a "major strategic mistake" which was undermining support for Israel among its allies.
"If some of the reports we were receiving were credible, the IDF's behaviour was more worthy of the Russian army than that of a supposedly civilised country," Sherard Cowper-Coles told the adviser, according to his report of the meeting.
"I was not suggesting that such behaviour was a matter of policy. But there was no doubt that individual soldiers were out of control and committing acts which were outraging international opinion," the diplomat added.
The operation came amid the Second Intifada, or Palestinian uprising, which occurred between 2000 and 2005.
Sharon launched the operation in the West Bank after a wave of suicide attacks claimed dozens of Israeli lives.
The Israeli military surrounded the compound of then-Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in Ramallah.
Troops cut off phone lines and power supplies, while intense street-to-street fighting raged for eight days further north in the Jenin refugee camp.

The offensive was at the time the largest military operation in the Palestinian territories since Israel captured them in 1967.
Then-US president George W. Bush complained in private call with UK prime minister Tony Blair that the hardline policies of Sharon were turning Arafat into a martyr similar to 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden, the files show.
"While Arafat had effectively been marginalising himself, Sharon had succeeded in making a martyr of him -- building him up to the point where he was becoming the new bin Laden," Bush complained, according to a note of the call by the then-UK leader's office.
"The US had tried to persuade Sharon privately, but he just would not listen. The bottom line was that Sharon was undermining the US's ability to pursue the war on terrorism. That was not the action of a good ally," the note added.
Operation Defensive Shield lasted just over a month and resulted in the deaths of about 500 Palestinians, according to estimates by the United Nations.
Israel's current war in Gaza was sparked by Hamas's October 7 attack on Israel which resulted in the deaths of 1,195 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli figures.
Militants also seized 251 hostages, 116 of whom are still in Gaza, including 44 the Israeli military says are dead.
Israel's retaliatory campaign has killed at least 39,006 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to data from the health ministry in the Hamas-ruled territory.

 


Biden vows to ‘keep working for end to war in Gaza’

Biden vows to ‘keep working for end to war in Gaza’
Updated 23 July 2024
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Biden vows to ‘keep working for end to war in Gaza’

Biden vows to ‘keep working for end to war in Gaza’
  • Joe Biden: “I’ll be working very closely with the Israelis and with the Palestinians to try to work out how we can get the Gaza war to end"

WASHINGTON: US President Joe Biden vowed Monday to continue working to end the war in Gaza during his final months in office, after he bowed out of his reelection bid.
“I’ll be working very closely with the Israelis and with the Palestinians to try to work out how we can get the Gaza war to end, and Middle East peace, and get all those hostages home,” Biden said in a public call into his campaign headquarters, which has transitioned to supporting Vice President Kamala Harris.
 

 


Iraq eyes drawdown of US-led forces starting September, sources say

Iraq eyes drawdown of US-led forces starting September, sources say
Updated 23 July 2024
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Iraq eyes drawdown of US-led forces starting September, sources say

Iraq eyes drawdown of US-led forces starting September, sources say
  • The US currently has around 2,500 troops in Iraq at the head of a more than 80-member coalition that was formed in 2014 to repel Daesh as it rampaged across Iraq and Syria
  • Washington and Baghdad initiated talks on the future of the coalition in January amid tit-for-tat attacks between Iran-backed Shiite Muslim armed groups and US forces that were sparked by the Israel-Hamas war

BAGHDAD: Iraq wants troops from a US-led military coalition to begin withdrawing in September and to formally end the coalition’s work by September 2025, four Iraqi sources said, with some US forces likely to remain in a newly negotiated advisory capacity.
The Iraqi position is being discussed with US officials in Washington this week at a security summit and there is no formal agreement on ending the coalition or any associated timetable yet, the Iraqi sources and US officials said.
US State Department spokesperson Mathew Miller told a news briefing that both sides were meeting in Washington this week to determine how to transition the US-led coalition’s mission based on the threat posed by Daesh, adding he had no further details.
US-led forces invaded Iraq in 2003, toppled former leader Saddam Hussein and then withdrew in 2011, only to return in 2014 to fight Daesh at the head of the coalition.
The US currently has around 2,500 troops in Iraq at the head of a more than 80-member coalition that was formed in 2014 to repel Daesh as it rampaged across Iraq and Syria.
They are housed at three main bases, one in Baghdad, one in western Anbar province and another in the northern Kurdistan region.
It is unclear how many troops would leave under a deal, with Iraqi sources saying they expected most to eventually depart but US officials saying many may remain under a newly negotiated advise and assist mission.
US officials are keen to have some military footprint in Iraq on a bilateral basis, in part to help support its presence across the border in Syria, where it has around 900 troops.
The issue is highly politicized, with mainly Iran-aligned Iraqi political factions looking to show that they are pushing out the country’s one-time occupier again, while US officials want to avoid giving Iran and its allies a win.
There are also concerns about Daesh’s ability to regroup.
The jihadist group was declared territorially defeated in Iraq in 2017 and in Syria in 2019 but still carries out attacks in both countries and is on track to double its attacks in Syria this year compared to 2023, the US military said.
The group and its affiliates have also in recent months carried out attacks in Iran and Russia, as well as in Oman last week for the first time.
While the coalition’s mission is to advise and assist Iraqi forces in the fight against the Daesh, Western officials say the US and its allies also see its presence in Iraq as a check on Iranian influence.
Washington and Baghdad initiated talks on the future of the coalition in January amid tit-for-tat attacks between Iran-backed Shiite Muslim armed groups and US forces that were sparked by the Israel-Hamas war.
An agreement to draw down the coalition could be a political win for Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani, who has been under pressure from Iran-aligned factions to push out US forces but has sought to do so in a way that balances Iraq’s delicate position as an ally of both Washington and Tehran.

 

 


Israel strikes on Yemen port: what is the damage?

Israel strikes on Yemen port: what is the damage?
Updated 23 July 2024
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Israel strikes on Yemen port: what is the damage?

Israel strikes on Yemen port: what is the damage?
  • The attack destroyed most of the port’s fuel storage capacity of 150,000 tons, leaving the Hodeida governorate with an overall capacity of 50,000, the US-based Navanti Group said, citing merchants
  • The ship “remains operational,” but “all 780,000 liters of fuel stock was likely destroyed,” said Pierre Honnorat, WFP’s Yemen country director, adding that all the agency’s staff were safe and accounted for

DUBAI: Israeli strikes on Saturday hit a power plant and fuel storage facilities in Hodeida, the main port under the control of Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels.
Here is what we know about the damage caused by the attack, which set oil tanks ablaze for days and came a day after the first fatal strike by the Houthis in Israel.

Saturday’s long-distance strike, the first by Israel on the Arabian Peninsula’s poorest country, hit the Hodeida harbor, a key gateway for fuel and international aid into Houthi-held parts of Yemen.

A satellite image shows a closer view of burning oil tanks after an Israeli air strike on Houthi military targets in Hodeidah, Yemen, July 21, 2024. (REUTERS)

The Houthis, who control swathes of the country including much of its Red Sea coast, said the attack struck fuel storage facilities at the harbor, killing six people, all of them port employees of the Yemen Petroleum Company.
A nearby power plant was also targeted, according to the rebels.
AFPTV images showed huge flames and black smoke spiralling into the sky from burning oil tanks at the port. Debris covered the dock where equipment was damaged.
High-resolution satellite images taken by Maxar Technologies showed flames consuming a heavily damaged fuel storage area, which still appeared to be burning on Monday, according to an AFP correspondent.

Debris litters a loading dock a day after Israeli strikes on the port of Yemen's Huthi-held city of Hodeida on July 21, 2024. (AFP)

A Hodeida port employee who was at the harbor the day of the attack said several tanks exploded sequentially.
But “the port, with its dock, containers, and ships, is intact,” said the employee who spoke on condition of anonymity over security concerns.
Analysis of satellite imagery from Planet by Dutch peace organization PAX showed at least 33 destroyed oil storage tanks, said Wim Zwijnenburg, a project leader with the organization.
“We expect (to find) more damage, as not all storage tanks are visible because of heavy smoke” from the fire and burning fuel, Zwijnenburg told AFP.

According to Zwijnenburg, the bombing has resulted in tens of thousands of liters of oil burning.
“Localized coastal pollution is expected from wastewater and leaking fuel,” said the expert, who specializes in the environmental impacts of war.
Maritime security firm Ambrey said satellite imagery following the strikes showed “extensive damage to the oil products storage facilities,” clarifying, however, that “the bulk terminal storage facilities appeared to be unaffected.”
The attack destroyed most of the port’s fuel storage capacity of 150,000 tons, leaving the Hodeida governorate with an overall capacity of 50,000, the US-based Navanti Group said, citing merchants.
The Israeli army on Sunday published a video showing them hitting two container yard cranes at the harbor.
The Navanti Group said five cranes are now “most likely non-operational.”
Ambrey said two merchant vessels were alongside the yard at the time the cranes were hit, but it did not specify if they were damaged.
The British agency had earlier observed four merchant vessels in the port at the time of the strikes and another eight in the anchorage.
“No vessel arrivals or departures have occurred since the Israeli attack on Hodeida,” Ambrey reported on Monday.

The World Food Programme on Monday told AFP that there had been “minor” damage to a crane on one of its aid vessels in the port and that its fuel storage facility was impacted.
The ship “remains operational,” but “all 780,000 liters of fuel stock was likely destroyed,” said Pierre Honnorat, WFP’s Yemen country director, adding that all the agency’s staff were safe and accounted for.
“WFP will source enough fuel supplies to ensure this loss has no significant effect on our operations,” he said.
Yemeni port authorities have said Hodeida “is operating at its full capacity,” according to the rebels’ Saba news agency.
“We are working around the clock to receive all ships and there is no concern about the supply chain and supplies of food, medicine, and oil derivatives,” port official Nasr Al-Nusairi was quoted by Saba as saying on Sunday.
A Houthi transport official on Monday said “work is underway to receive and unload food and fuel shipments within 24 hours.”
While firefighting teams were still struggling to contain the blaze at the harbor, a fire that erupted at a nearby power plant was nearly under control on Monday, according to Mohammed Albasha, the Navanti Group’s senior Middle East analyst.
“Repairs have started” as electricity gradually returns to the city following outages over the weekend, the analyst said.