UK and US launch ‘targeted strikes’ against Houthi rebel sites in Yemen

Rishi Sunak said the UK will 'always stand up for freedom of navigation and the free flow of trade'.

UK and US launch ‘targeted strikes’ against Houthi rebel sites in Yemen Ministry of Defence

The Royal Air Force has launched targeted strikes against military facilities used by Houthi rebels in Yemen, with Rishi Sunak saying the UK will “always stand up for freedom of navigation and the free flow of trade”.

It marks the first time strikes have been launched against the group since it started targeting international shipping in the Red Sea late last year, and it vowed there would be retaliation.

US president Joe Biden said US military forces, backed by the UK and supported by Australia, Bahrain, Canada, and the Netherlands, successfully conducted strikes against a number of targets in Yemen.

The Ministry of Defence said coalition forces identified key facilities involved in Houthi targeting of HMS Diamond and US Navy vessels on Tuesday “and agreed to conduct a carefully coordinated strike to reduce the Houthis’ capability to violate international law in this manner”.

It said: “Four RAF Typhoon FGR4s, supported by a Voyager air refuelling tanker therefore used Paveway IV guided bombs to conduct precision strikes on two of these Houthi facilities.

“One was a site at Bani in north-western Yemen used to launch reconnaissance and attack drones. A number of buildings involved in drone operations were targeted by our aircraft.

“The other location struck by our aircraft was the airfield at Abbs. Intelligence has shown that it has been used to launch both cruise missiles and drones over the Red Sea. Several key targets at the airfield were identified and prosecuted by our aircraft.

“In planning the strikes, particular care was taken to minimise any risks to civilians, and any such risks were mitigated further by the decision to conduct the strikes during the night.

“The detailed results of the strikes are being assessed, but early indications are that the Houthis’ ability to threaten merchant shipping has taken a blow, and our commitment to protecting the sea-lanes, through which some 15% of the world’s shipping passes and which is vital to the global economy, has been amply demonstrated.”

Last night, the SNP led calls for Westminster to be recalled as it became clear the UK would join the US in striking targets in Yemen.

There won’t now be any update to MPs until Monday.

The Lib Dems and some Labour MPs have also warned of the risk of an escalating conflict in the Middle East, with Iran condemning the attacks on its Houthi allies.

The Prime Minister said early on Friday morning: “In recent months, the Houthi militia have carried out a series of dangerous and destabilising attacks against commercial shipping in the Red Sea, threatening UK and other international ships, causing major disruption to a vital trade route and driving up commodity prices.

“Their reckless actions are risking lives at sea and exacerbating the humanitarian crisis in Yemen.

“Despite the repeated warnings from the international community, the Houthis have continued to carry out attacks in the Red Sea, including against UK and US warships just this week. This cannot stand. The United Kingdom will always stand up for freedom of navigation and the free flow of trade.

“We have therefore taken limited, necessary and proportionate action in self-defence, alongside the United States with non-operational support from the Netherlands, Canada and Bahrain against targets tied to these attacks, to degrade Houthi military capabilities and protect global shipping.”

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, left, and US President Joe Biden.PA Media

“The Royal Navy continues to patrol the Red Sea as part of the multinational Operation Prosperity Guardian to deter further Houthi aggression, and we urge them to cease their attacks and take steps to de-escalate.”

Biden said: “These strikes are in direct response to unprecedented Houthi attacks against international maritime vessels in the Red Sea – including the use of anti-ship ballistic missiles for the first time in history.

“These attacks have endangered US personnel, civilian mariners, and our partners, jeopardised trade, and threatened freedom of navigation.

“More than 50 nations have been affected in 27 attacks on international commercial shipping. Crews from more than 20 countries have been threatened or taken hostage in acts of piracy.

“More than 2,000 ships have been forced to divert thousands of miles to avoid the Red Sea — which can cause weeks of delays in product shipping times. And on January 9, Houthis launched their largest attack to date—directly targeting American ships.”

US defence secretary Lloyd Austin said: “Today’s strikes targeted sites associated with the Houthis’ unmanned aerial vehicle, ballistic and cruise missile, and coastal radar and air surveillance capabilities.

“The United States maintains its right to self-defence and, if necessary, we will take follow-on actions to protect US forces.”

Russia has requested an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council on the strikes.

France, the current council president, said the meeting will take place on Friday afternoon.

Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Ministry expressed “great concern” over the airstrikes.

“While the kingdom stresses the importance of preserving the security and stability of the Red Sea region… it calls for restraint and avoiding escalation,” a statement said.

Handout photo supplied by Ministry of Defence showing a Royal Air Force Voyager aircraft taking off from RAF Akrotiri to conduct strikes against military targets in Yemen.Ministry of Defence

A high-ranking Houthi official, Ali al-Qahoum, posted on X: “The battle will be bigger…. and beyond the imagination and expectation of the Americans and the British.”

Al-Masirah, a Houthi-run satellite news channel, described strikes hitting the Al-Dailami Air Base north of Sanaa, the airport in the port city of the Hodeida, a camp east of Saada, the airport in the city of Taiz and an airport near Hajjah.

Sunak held a full Cabinet call on Thursday evening in which ministers discussed the response to disruption on the key global shipping route.

In an unusual move, the Government briefed Sir Keir Starmer and shadow defence secretary John Healey after the call.

Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle visited the Cabinet Office late on Thursday.

With the Commons having finished business for the week and the Prime Minister having no plans to recall Parliament, MPs will be unable to debate the military intervention until Monday.

The Liberal Democrats demanded a vote take place and the SNP said any military action should be scrutinised in the Commons.

Parliament cannot be recalled without the Government asking the Commons Speaker to do so, and such requests are rare.

The Royal Navy air defence destroyer HMS Diamond was involved in the response to earlier attacks, which the Houthis have claimed are a response to the Israeli bombardment of Gaza.

Some major shipping lines and oil giant BP have already diverted vessels around southern Africa, adding time and costs to journeys, rather than risk the Red Sea.

If the crisis continues, the increased costs could be passed on to consumers, hampering efforts to curb inflation and reduce interest rates.

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