A senior defense official said the Biden administration is anticipating retaliation after the U.S. and U.K. carried out joint airstrikes on Houthi targets in Yemen in response to the militant group’s ongoing attacks against commercial vessels in the Red Sea.
The official said late Thursday, following the strikes, that the administration has so far ‘not seen any direct retaliatory action directed towards our U.S. or other coalition members.’
‘While we fully expect [the joint] airstrikes to diminish the Houthis’ capability and degrade it, and certainly over time to reduce their capacity and propensity to conduct these attacks, we would not be surprised to see some sort of response,’ the senior administration official said.
He said President Biden directed Secretary Austin to carry out the response on Tuesday, following one of the Houthi’s most complex attacks to date targeting international shipping lanes in the Red Sea.
On that day, Iranian-backed Houthi militants launched one-way attack UAVs, anti-ship cruise missiles, and an anti-ship ballistic missile from the Houthi-controlled area of Yemen towards international shipping lanes in the Southern Red Sea.
The attack took place as dozens of merchant vessels were transiting and was one of the largest drone and missile attacks from the terrorist group since they began attacking commercial shipping in November.
The senior Biden administration official said Friday’s joint strikes was ‘aimed specifically to disrupt and degrade Houthis’ capabilities to threaten global trade and freedom of navigation in one of the world’s most critical waterways.’
The targets selected, he said, ‘focused specifically on Houthi missile radar and UAV capabilities … essential to the Houthis’ campaign against commercial shipping in international waters.’
The Houthi attacks, he said, have directly affected the citizens and cargo and commercial interests of more than 50 countries, as more than a dozen shipping companies have been forced to reroute vessels around the Cape of Good Hope.
The official said Defense Secretary Austin monitored Friday morning’s strike in real-time from Walter Reed Hospital and was on multiple calls with the Joint Staff, National Security Council, and Centcom Commander Kurilla.
Houthi militants have said their actions are tied to Israel’s military offensive in Gaza in response to the Oct. 7 attack in which Hamas militants killed 1,200 people and took another 240 people hostage. The senior Biden administration called the claim ‘completely baseless and illegitimate.’
‘That is simply not true,’ he said. ‘They are firing indiscriminately on vessels with global ties.’
President Biden said the strikes were meant to demonstrate that the U.S. and its allies ‘will not tolerate’ the militant group’s ceaseless attacks on the Red Sea. And he said they only made the move after attempts at diplomatic negotiations and careful deliberation.
The strikes marked the first U.S. military response to what has been a persistent campaign of drone and missile attacks on commercial ships since the start of the Israel-Hamas war. And the coordinated military assault comes just a week after the White House and a host of partner nations issued a final warning to the Houthis to cease the attacks or face potential military action. The officials described the strikes on condition of anonymity to discuss military operations. Members of Congress were briefed earlier Thursday on the strike plans.
The rebels, who have carried out 27 attacks involving dozens of drones and missiles just since Nov. 19, had warned that any attack by American forces on its sites in Yemen will spark a fierce military response.
A high-ranking Houthi official, Ali al-Qahoum, vowed there would be retaliation. ‘The battle will be bigger…. and beyond the imagination and expectation of the Americans and the British,’ he said in a post on X.