US weighs strike options to deter Houthis from more Red Sea attacks

Top Biden administration officials are actively weighing options to strike back at Houthis in Yemen after the Iran-backed group launched new attacks on naval and commercial ships in the Red Sea on Saturday, according to two U.S. officials.

The Pentagon has in recent days moved the Dwight D. Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group from the Persian Gulf into the Gulf of Aden, off the coast of Yemen, to support a potential U.S. response to attacks, said one of the officials, both of whom were granted anonymity to speak about sensitive plans. The military has also provided options to commanders to strike the Houthis, the official said.

The Biden administration has been reluctant to respond militarily against the Houthi attacks on commercial shipping in recent weeks for fear of provoking Iran, which backs Hamas and Hezbollah in Yemen as well as the Houthis. Previously, the Pentagon had recommended the administration not do so.

But a significant uptick in attacks in recent days could potentially lead top U.S. national security officials to change their calculus.

The destroyer USS Carney, operating in the Red Sea, shot down 14 one-way attack drones launched from Houthi-controlled territory in Yemen early Saturday morning. Meanwhile, a British destroyer, the HMS Diamond, which had recently arrived in the region to help protect commercial shipping, also shot down a Houthi drone.

On Friday, a Houthi drone struck the Liberian-flagged Motor Vessel Al Jasrah in the Red Sea, causing a fire. The same day, Houthi forces also launched two ballistic missiles toward the Bab el-Mandeb strait, one of which struck the Liberian-flagged Motor Vessel Palatium 3. U.S. warships responded to the attacks at the time.

A Pentagon spokesperson declined to comment on ongoing operations.

The assault has had a significant impact on the commercial market. Maersk, the world’s biggest shipping company, on Friday halted all shipping through the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, a vital passageway for cargo and energy shipments traveling between the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden.

The news comes as Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Joint Chiefs Chair Gen. C.Q. Brown are set to travel to the Middle East this week. Austin is slated to huddle with leaders in Israel, Bahrain and Qatar; Brown will join Austin in Israel.

The Pentagon has bolstered its presence in the region, moving three additional destroyers into the Mediterranean Sea this week. The ships join the Gerald R. Ford Carrier Strike Group that has been operating in the Mediterranean since Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel, a deployment that Austin extended again this week.

Over the past week, missile-defense destroyers Laboon, Delbert D. Black and The Sullivans have arrived in the Mediterranean, POLITICO reported Saturday.

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