The U.S. remains committed to providing a persistent defensive presence in the Red Sea alongside allies and partners, the commander of Naval Forces Central Command said today.
Navy Vice Adm. Brad Cooper said about 1,500 merchant ships have safely transited the Red Sea since mid-December when the U.S. launched Operation Prosperity Guardian. The operation is a multinational, maritime security initiative responding to the recent escalation in Houthi attacks originating from Yemen.
“We are certainly mindful of the continued threat and expect the Houthi attacks may continue,” he said. “I think really importantly, though, our actions in this defensive operation are not just through words, but through deeds.”
Since mid-November, Houthi rebels have launched 25 attacks against merchant vessels operating in the Red Sea. Those include the detonation of an unmanned surface vessel in international shipping lanes earlier today.
While no ships were hit in the most recent attack, Cooper said that the persistent threat from the Iran-backed Houthi rebels in an international shipping lane is a vital concern.
“Our assessment is that 55 nations have direct connections to the ships who’ve been attacked, whether through the flagging state, where the goods were produced or destined, or the nationalities of the innocent mariners aboard each vessel,” Cooper said.
“The impacts of these attacks stretch across the globe,” he said. “This is an international problem that requires an international solution.”
On Wednesday, the governments of the U.S., Australia, Bahrain, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, New Zealand and the United Kingdom issued a joint statement condemning the attacks and warning the rebel group against further escalation.
“Ongoing Houthi attacks in the Red Sea are illegal, unacceptable, and profoundly destabilizing,” the statement read in part. “There is no lawful justification for intentionally targeting civilian shipping and naval vessels.”
The group of nations warned that the Houthis “will bear the responsibility of the consequences should they continue to threaten lives, the global economy and [the] free flow of commerce in the region’s critical waterways.”
“We remain committed to the international rules-based order and are determined to hold malign actors accountable for unlawful seizures and attacks,” the statement concluded.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III announced the launch of Operation Prosperity Guardian on Dec. 18, while on a multiday trip through the Middle East.
The operation brings together forces from several nations to address the challenges in the region and ensure freedom of navigation in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden.
The forces will operate under the umbrella of the Combined Maritime Forces and the leadership of Task Force 153, a U.S. Navy-led initiative focused on maritime security in the Red Sea.
Cooper said that since the start of the Operation Prosperity Guardian, the U.S.-led coalition has shot down 19 drones and missiles and sunk three small boats launched by the Houthis against vessels operating in the Red Sea.
Of the drones and missiles shot down, 11 were uncrewed, aerial vehicles; two were cruise missiles; and six were antiship cruise missiles.
“I think the relationships that have always been strong are even stronger,” Cooper said. “Our industry partners have said back to us that Operation Prosperity Guardian is contributing to their sense of security and freedom of navigation in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden.”