Hot Situation In the Red Sea as U.S. and UK Plan to Counterattack Houthi Forces
There’s been a significant escalation of events in the southern end of the Red Sea, with Houthi attacks on passing ships becoming more complex and intensifying with each occurrence. The latest incident involved US Navy helicopters being attacked by Houthi assault ships while they were responding to a distress call from a cargo ship, the MAERSK HANGZHOU. The helicopters eventually returned fire, sinking three of the Houthi ships and causing the fourth to flee. The incident comes amidst a report claiming that the US and UK are making plans to counterattack Houthi forces.
In response to the events, an official statement from US Central Command (CENTCOM) outlined the details of the latest attacks. According to the statement, the small Houthi attack boats approached the MAERSK HANGZHOU and opened fire on the ship. American helicopters from USS EISENHOWER (CVN 69) and GRAVELY (DDG 107) responded to the distress call and, in the process, were also attacked by the small Houthi assault boats. The helicopters returned fire in self-defense and sunk three of the four small boats, with the fourth fleeing the area. The incident resulted in no damage to American naval personnel or equipment. It was also reported that at least 10 Houthi fighters were killed in the skirmish.
The weapons used by the US Navy helicopters were identified as MH-60S/R Seahawks, which are relatively powerful anti-surface warfare platforms equipped with a variety of armament, including manned machine guns, AGM-114 Hellfire missiles, laser-guided rockets, and the M197 20mm Gatling gun. These weapons, combined with an advanced sensor suite, provided the helicopters with essential force protection capabilities during the recent encounter.
Just hours before the confrontation with the Houthi ships, another incident occurred where the USS GRAVELY shot down two anti-ship ballistic missiles fired from Houthi-controlled areas in Yemen towards the MAERSK HANGZHOU. This incident marked the 23rd illegal attack on international shipping vessels by the Houthis since November 19.
As a result of these events, Maersk has announced the suspension of all Red Sea transits for at least 48 hours. The layering of different types of attacks, combined with ongoing reports of anti-ship ballistic missile launches, appears to suggest an evolving strategy by the Houthis to target US warships in the region. This is a matter of growing concern, considering the increasing success of the Houthi’s use of these weapons and the security challenges they pose to US naval forces.
Moreover, the status of Operation Prosperity Guardian, a multinational security effort aimed at providing security for ships transiting the Red Sea, remains unclear. There have been reports of small convoy operations, but large multinational combined operations have not been observed. Furthermore, the report claims that the United States and the United Kingdom are preparing to launch a joint series of airstrikes against Houthi targets. However, neither the White House National Security Council nor the Pentagon have confirmed the veracity of these claims.
While the idea of a joint military response to deter future attacks may seem logical to some, it raises several concerns about the potential impact such actions may have, especially when considering the security of US forces in the region and the broader geopolitical implications. The consequences of kinetic actions against the Houthis, who are backed by Iran, would also need to be carefully considered before any decisions can be made.
In the midst of these intensifying confrontations, the UK government stated: “The situation in the Red Sea is incredibly serious and the Houthi attacks are unacceptable and destabilizing. While a variety of scenarios are being planned, no decisions have yet been made, and we continue to pursue all diplomatic routes. We call on the Iranian-backed Houthis to cease these illegal attacks and are working with our allies and partners to protect freedom of navigation.”
On the other hand, the Houthis have shown no indications of relenting, with repeated messages continuing to be hostile and threatening. The Houthi’s continual attacks and harsh rhetoric only serve to fuel the tension in the region and indicate that the situation will likely continue to escalate in the days and weeks to come.
As the events continue to unfold, the intricacies of the situation in the Red Sea warrant ongoing monitoring, as it has significant implications for maritime security and broader geopolitical dynamics in the region.
Contact the author: Tyler@thedrive.com