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UK Deputy PM says strikes weakening Houthis, won't send troops into Yemen

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Britain will not send ground troops into combat against Houthi militants in Yemen, Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden said on Thursday, adding that air strikes had weakened the Iran-backed group.

British Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden speaks to Reuters during his visit to Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, February 1, 2024. Reuters/Abdelhadi Ramahi

Britain will not send ground troops into combat against Houthi militants in Yemen, Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden said on Thursday, adding that air strikes had weakened the Iran-backed group.

The United States and Britain have, since January, hit Houthi targets in Yemen with air strikes following months of Houthi attacks on commercial and naval ships in the Red Sea. The Houthis say the attacks, which have disrupted global trade, are a response to Israel's assault on Gaza.

“Let’s be absolutely clear from the start. We have no plans whatsoever to put boots on the ground,” Dowden said in an interview at the British ambassador's residence in Abu Dhabi.

He said the air strikes, which have garnered some international support, were aimed at reducing the Houthis' ability to threaten vessels in the Red Sea and not at ousting the group, which outlasted a years-long Saudi bombing campaign.

The attacks on Red Sea shipping have raised the profile of the Yemeni movement, which took control over large parts of the impoverished country a decade ago. Many citizens in the Middle East see the Houthis as the only Arab force taking on Israel.

Major shipping lines have largely abandoned the major Red Sea trade route for longer routes around Africa. This has increased costs, sparking concerns for global inflation and sapped Egypt of crucial foreign revenue it would normally earn from shippers sailing the Suez Canal to or from the Red Sea.

Dowden said he was confident the military strikes were a step in degrading the Houthis' capability to threaten the Red Sea, and part of broader measures that include sanctions on Houthi figures.

"We need to tighten the pressure on the Houthis because at the root of this lies a commitment from the United Kingdom to ensure stability and free trade of goods and movement."

Britain and the U.S. have framed their coordinated effort as having broad international support. Australia, Bahrain, Canada, the Netherlands and others have provided some material support to the campaign but have not taken part in the air strikes.

But few of London and Washington’s closest Arab partners have joined the campaign or provided any public support.

The Houthis have remained defiant. Vessels in the Red Sea continue to come under drone and missile attacks and the Houthis have issued statements goading the British and Americans with threats of targeting their naval vessels.

The British and American air strikes are also taking place amid an unrelated peace process in Yemen. The U.N. in December said the Houthis and other warring parties had committed to ceasefire measures and political dialogue.

Dowden described the broader regional situation as "fragile and dangerous" and urged all sides to show restraint.

This week, Iranian-backed militants were blamed for a drone attack that killed three U.S. service members in Jordan, the first such deadly strike against U.S. forces since the Israel-Hamas war erupted in October.

Reporting by Alexander Cornwell

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