February 25th, 2024

Pentagon announces new international mission to counter attacks on commercial vessels in Red Sea

By Tara Copp And Lolita C. Baldor, The Associated Press on December 18, 2023.

CORRECTS DATE U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin makes a joint statement with Israel Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant, after their meeting about Israel's military operation in Gaza, in Tel Aviv, Israel, Monday, Dec. 18, 2023. (AP Photo/ Maya Alleruzzo)

MANAMA, Bahrain (AP) – The U.S. and a host of other nations are creating a new force to protect ships transiting the Red Sea that have come under attack by drones and ballistic missiles fired from Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced early Tuesday in Bahrain.

The seriousness of the attacks, several of which have damaged the vessels, has led multiple shipping companies to order their ships to hold in place and not enter the Bab el-Mandeb Strait until the security situation can be addressed.

“This is an international challenge that demands collective action,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in statement released just after midnight in Bahrain. “Therefore today I am announcing the establishment of Operation Prosperity Guardian, an important new multinational security initiative.”

The United Kingdom, Bahrain, Canada, France, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Seychelles and Spain will join the U.S. in the new mission, Austin announced. Some of the countries will conduct joint patrols while others provide intelligence support in the southern Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden.

The mission will be coordinated by the already existing Combined Task Force 153, which was set up in April 2022 to improve maritime security in the Red Sea, Bab el-Mandeb and the Gulf of Aden. There have been 39 member nations in CTF 153, but officials were working to determine which of them would participate in this latest effort.

Three U.S. warships – the USS Carney, the USS Stethem and the USS Mason, all Navy destroyers – have been moving through the Bab el-Mandeb Strait daily to help deter and respond to attacks from the Houthis.

The move to set up the expanded operation came after three commercial vessels were struck by missiles fired by Iranian-back Houthis in Yemen on Dec. 3. Those attacks were part of an escalating campaign of violence that also included armed and other drones launched in the direction of U.S. warships.

To date the U.S. has not struck back at the Iranian-back Houthis operating in Yemen or targeted any of the militants’ weapons or other sites. On Monday Austin did not answer a question as to why the Pentagon had not conducted a counterstrike.

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