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US, Britain wage strikes against Iran-linked Houthis in Yemen

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The United States and Britain launched strikes against 36 targets in Yemen on Saturday, in the second day of major U.S. operations against Iran-linked groups following a deadly attack on American troops last weekend.

A fighter jet is launched from the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower during a strike against what the U.S. military describe as Houthi military targets in Yemen, February 3, 2024. U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Janae Chambers/Handout via Reuters

The United States and Britain launched strikes against 36 targets in Yemen on Saturday, in the second day of major U.S. operations against Iran-linked groups following a deadly attack on American troops last weekend.

The strikes hit buried Houthi weapons storage facilities, missile systems, launchers and other capabilities the Houthis have used to attack Red Sea shipping, the Pentagon said, adding it targeted 13 locations across the country.

It was the latest sign of spreading conflict in the Middle East since war erupted between Israel and Hamas after the militant Palestinian group's deadly assault on Israel on Oct.7.

"This collective action sends a clear message to the Houthis that they will continue to bear further consequences if they do not end their illegal attacks on international shipping and naval vessels," U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said, adding the strikes had support from Australia, Bahrain, Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands and New Zealand.

On Friday, the U.S. carried out strikes in Iraq and Syria against more than 85 targets linked to Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and militias it backs, reportedly killing nearly 40 people.

Those strikes, which were condemned by Iran and by Iraq, were retaliation for a drone strike last Sunday that killed three U.S. soldiers and wounded more than 40 American service members in Jordan.

While Washington accuses Iran-backed militias of attacking U.S. troops at bases in Iraq, Syria and Jordan, Yemen's Iran-backed Houthis have been targeting commercial ships and warships in the Red Sea.

The Houthis, who control the most populous parts of Yemen, say their attacks are in solidarity with Palestinians as Israel strikes Gaza. But the U.S. and its allies characterizes them as indiscriminate and a menace to global trade.

The U.S. has carried out more than a dozen strikes against Houthi targets in the past several weeks, but these have failed to stop attacks by the group.

Just hours before the latest major wave of strikes from the sea and air, the U.S. military's Central Command issued statements detailing other, more limited strikes in past day that included hitting six cruise missiles the Houthis were prepared to launch against ships in the Red Sea.

"This is not an escalation," said British Defence Minister Grant Shapps. "We have already successfully targeted launchers and storage sites involved in Houthi attacks, and I am confident that our latest strikes have further degraded the Houthis’ capabilities."

Despite the strikes against Iran-linked groups, the Pentagon has said it does not want war with Iran and does not believe Tehran wants war either. U.S. Republicans have been ratcheting up pressure on Democratic President Joe Biden to deal a blow to Iran directly.

It was unclear how Tehran will respond to the strikes, which do not directly target Iran but degrade groups it backs.

Iran's foreign ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanaani said in a statement the attacks in Iraq and Syria represented "another adventurous and strategic mistake by the United States that will result only in increased tension and instability".

Iraq summoned the U.S. charge d'affaires in Baghdad to deliver a formal protest after strikes in that country.

The Houthi-run Yemeni News Agency (Saba) said the U.S. and Britain launched 14 raids on Saturday on the governorates of Taiz and Hodeidah.

Eleven of the attacks targeted the Al-Barah area in the Maqbanah District and areas in the Haifan District, a security source told the news agency. The other three attacks targeted Jabal Al-Jada' in Al-Lahiya District and the Al-Salif District in Al-Hudaydah Governorate.

Biden's emerging strategy on Yemen aims to weaken the Houthi militants but stops well short of trying to defeat the group or directly address Iran, the Houthis' main sponsor, experts say.

The strategy blends limited military strikes and sanctions, and appears aimed at punishing the Houthis while limiting the danger of a wider Middle East conflict.

Major shipping lines have largely abandoned the major Red Sea trade route for longer routes around Africa. This has increased costs, feeding worries about global inflation while sapping Egypt of crucial foreign revenue from shippers sailing the Suez Canal to or from the Red Sea.

Reporting by Phil Stewart and Idrees Ali

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