The United States carried out strikes against Yemen’s Shiite Houthi rebels for the first time in that country’s civil war, destroying three coastal radar sites with Tomahawk cruise missiles in retaliation for missile fire earlier this week toward US Navy ships.
The strikes early on Thursday point to the potential for the US to be dragged into a greater role in Yemen’s war. For more than a year, Washington has been backing the Saudi-led coalition waging a fierce air campaign against the Houthis and their allies. But American forces had not previously targeted the rebels directly.
But it appears the Houthis lashed out at the United States with the missile fire against its ships in retaliation after warplanes from the Saudi-led coalition struck a funeral in the Yemeni capital Sanaa last weekend being attended by senior rebel figures. The devastating strikes killed nearly 140 people, most of them civilians.
Human Rights Watch said on Thursday that the funeral bombing constitutes an apparent war crime. It also called on the United States and Britain to immediately suspend all arms sales to Saudi Arabia.
The two countries have sold the kingdom billions of dollars in weapons for use in the Yemen campaign, and the US military has provided logistical and intelligence support as well.
In today’s US strikes, the destroyer USS Nitze launched the cruise missiles, according to an American military official. At around 7.00 AM, the missiles hit radar sites in three locations along the Red Sea coast, Ras Eissa, Khoukha and Makha, according to Col Walid Zeyad, a Yemeni naval official in the nearby Red Sea port of Hodeida.
No information on casualties from the US missiles was provided by American officials. The American military official said the sites were in remote areas, where there was little risk of civilian casualties or collateral damage. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to talk to the press.
President Barack Obama authorized the strikes at the recommendation of Defense Secretary Ash Carter and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen Joseph Dunford, Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said in a statement.
“These limited self-defense strikes were conducted to protect our personnel, our ships and our freedom of navigation in this important maritime passageway,” Cook said.
He said the US will work to ensure navigation in the Red Sea and Bab al-Mandeb, a vital strait off Yemen through which shipping between Asia and Europe through the Suez Canal must pass.