The US military launched new strikes against Houthi targets inside Yemen on Tuesday, targeting anti-ship ballistic missiles controlled by the Iran-backed rebel group, a two US defense officials told CNN on Tuesday.
US forces struck and destroyed four Houthi anti-ship ballistic missiles that were preparing to launch from Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen, the officials said, adding that they presented an imminent threat to merchant and US Navy vessels in the area.
A few hours later, however, the Houthis launched an anti-ship ballistic missile into international shipping lanes in the Southern Red Sea, hitting the M/V Zografia, a Maltese flagged bulk carrier, the officials said. The ship did not suffer significant damage and was able to continue its journey.
US Central command confirmed the new strikes and attack on the M/V Zografia in a statement later on Tuesday.
The action comes amid heightened tensions in the Middle East and fears that the conflict in Gaza between Israel and Hamas could further spill out into the region. US officials have maintained for months that the conflict is contained to Gaza, but there are concerns about escalation on several fronts.
In addition to the ongoing strikes by the Houthis — which the US has vowed to respond to if the militant group continues to threaten the Red Sea — the US is also navigating frequent attacks on US and coalition forces in Iraq and Syria, all while Israel and Hezbollah are engaged in cross-border fighting.
And on Monday, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps launched missile strikes at what they called a spy base for Israel’s intelligence agency Mossad in Iraq, and “anti-Iran terror groups” in Syria. A US official said later that no US personnel or facilities were targeted.
The strikes on Tuesday are at least the third round of attacks the US military has launched against the Houthis’ infrastructure since last Thursday, when the US and UK conducted a joint operation that targeted nearly 30 locations in Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen, hitting launching systems, production facilities, air defense radar systems, and command and control nodes.
That operation only destroyed less than a third of the Houthis’ weapons capabilities, however, a US official told CNN on Monday.
The Houthis have launched dozens of drone and missile attacks on commercial shipping in the Red Sea over a period of weeks. On Monday, a Houthi ballistic missile struck a US-owned and operated cargo ship carrying steel products, appearing to be the first time the Iran-backed group had successfully struck a US commercial vessel.
On Tuesday, US Central Command also announced that the US had seized Iranian-made ballistic and cruise missile components from a vessel off the coast of Somalia and headed to Yemen. Two US Navy SEALs were lost at sea during the seizure; search and rescue efforts are still ongoing.
President Joe Biden said Thursday night, following the US-led strikes, that he would “not hesitate to direct further measures to protect our people and the free flow of international commerce as necessary.”
On Friday, the US carried out additional strikes using Tomahawk land-attack missiles to target a radar facility used by the Houthis.
Officials said the strikes last week were successful as designed, but one senior US official privately acknowledged to CNN that they did not believe the strikes “set back their military efforts substantially.”
Speaking about last week’s strikes at the World Economic Forum in Davos Switzerland, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said they were not meant to “fully” deter the Houthis, but to degrade their capabilities “so their ability to mount sustained and complex attacks becomes more difficult. “
“But we did not say when we launched our attacks, they’re going to end once and for all, the Houthis will be fully deterred,” Sullivan said. “We anticipated the Houthis would continue to try to hold this critical artery at risk, and we continue to reserve the right to take further action, but this needs to be an all-hands-on-deck effort.”
This story has been updated with additional information.
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