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DOD Takes Steps to Restore Stability in Red Sea Area

While the Defense Department supports the overall aim of de-escalating tensions and restoring stability in the Red Sea, it will not hesitate to defend civilians and protect the free flow of commerce in one of the world's most critical waterways, said the deputy assistant secretary of defense for Middle East policy.

A jet launches from an aircraft carrier.
USS Dwight D. Eisenhower
The USS Dwight D. Eisenhower conducts flight operations in response to increased Iranian-backed Houthi malign behavior in the Red Sea, Jan. 12, 2024.
Photo By: Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Zachary Elmore
VIRIN: 240112-N-VC924-1075Y

Daniel B. Shapiro testified today before the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Near East, South Asia, Central Asia and Counterterrorism. 

Since Nov. 19, the Houthis have conducted at least 48 attacks against commercial shipping and naval vessels in and around the Red Sea through which 15% of all global trade flows, he said. 

They have used antiship ballistic missiles, antiship cruise missiles, unmanned aerial systems on surface vessels, and in one instance a helicopter-borne seizure, he said. 

"Despite the Houthis' claims, these attacks are almost entirely unrelated to Israel and Israeli affiliated shipping, and to be clear, any such attacks would be entirely illegitimate anyway. These are indiscriminate attacks that are as much an affront to maritime commerce as is piracy," Shapiro said.

A missile launches from a ship at sea.
USS Carney
The USS Carney defeats a combination of Houthi missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles in the Red Sea, Oct. 19, 2023.
Photo By: Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Aaron Lau
VIRIN: 231019-N-GF955-1113Y

They've affected the interests of more than 55 nations and threatened the free flow of commerce through the Red Sea, a bedrock of the global economy. These attacks have prompted more than a dozen major shipping operators to suspend transit of the Red Sea, causing a spike in insurance rates for vessels in the region and, more importantly, putting the lives of innocent mariners and U.S. service members at risk, he said. 

These attacks are also driving up prices and causing delivery delays in critical humanitarian items, such as food and medicine, in places where they're needed most. This is adversely affecting people in need of assistance around the world, including residents of Sudan, Ethiopia and in Yemen itself, he said. 

"It's clear that these Houthi attacks represent an international problem that affects all nations committed to the exercise of navigational freedoms and the free flow of commerce. These attacks, which affect the entire region and nations across the globe, cannot go unchallenged. And this problem demands a broad-based and collective response," Shapiro said. 

The U.S., in coordination with allies and partners, is taking military, diplomatic and economic steps to impose costs on the Houthi leadership and degrade their ability to conduct attacks on commercial shipping, he said.

Sailors monitor systems aboard a ship.
USS Laboon
Navy Chief Petty Officers Juan Torres, left, and Jason Jimenez review water tank status aboard the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Laboon while the ship operates in support of Operation Prosperity Guardian in the Red Sea, Dec. 22, 2023.
Photo By: Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Alice Husted
VIRIN: 231222-N-DY413-2011Y

Since December, more than 20 countries have joined increased maritime patrols in the area to safeguard commercial shipping, he said. 

On Saturday, U.S. strikes hit Houthi targets that include underground weapons storage facilities, missile storage facilities, unmanned aerial systems, air defense systems, radars and a helicopter, he said. 

Over the past few weeks, U.S. forces have struck over 230 targets in Houthi-controlled Yemen through both deliberate and self-defense strikes, likely destroying hundreds of Houthi weapons. That's not including the dozens of Houthi missiles and unmanned aerial systems that U.S. and partner naval vessels have intercepted and shot down over the Red Sea, he said. 

In addition to DOD's efforts to degrade and destroy Houthi capabilities, U.S. forces have interdicted Iranian vessels carrying lethal aid to Yemen, he said.

A missile launches from a ship.
USS Gravely
The crew aboard the USS Gravely launches Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles in response to increased Iranian-backed Houthi malign behavior in the Red Sea, Jan. 12, 2024.
Photo By: Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Jonathan Word
VIRIN: 240111-N-BT677-1083Y

"We've made it very clear to Iran that we hold it accountable for attacks by its partners and proxies and believe Iranian leaders are aware of the consequences should these attacks result in U.S. casualties," he said.

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