Date Posted: 12-Jan-2024
Author: James Trigg, London
Publication: Jane’s Country Risk Daily Report
- Event: US and UK forces launched a series of airstrikes against Ansar Allah on 12 January, targeting the group’s capability to launch UAVs and missiles
- Significance: These strikes also came after Ansar Allah launched its largest barrage of missiles and UAVs to date towards the Red Sea on 9 January, deliberately targeting a US warship for the first time
- Outlook: Ansar Allah will almost certainly seek to respond with further missile and UAV attacks targeting the Red Sea in the immediate term, dependent on the damage inflicted by the 12 January airstrikes. The risk of escalating the conflict means international and regional support for further airstrikes will likely be limited
At approximately 0230 h local time, the US and the UK launched a series of air and missile strikes against targets in Ansar Allah-controlled Yemeni territory. In an 11 January statement (Eastern Standard Time) acknowledging the operation, US Air Force Lieutenant General Alexus Grynkewich reported that the strikes occurred at “over 60 targets at 16 … sites”. The strikes were carried out through a combination of Tomahawk cruise missiles launched by US Arleigh Burke-class destroyers and a US submarine in the Red Sea, as well as aircraft deployed from the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower and RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus.
According to a 12 January statement by US Central Command (CENTCOM), the purpose of the strikes was “to degrade [Ansar Allah’s] capability to continue their illegal and reckless attacks on US and international vessels and commercial shipping in the Red Sea”. The strikes targeted locations and infrastructure associated with Ansar Allah’s unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) and missile inventories, including “radar systems, air-defence systems, and storage and launch sites”. A 12 January statement by the British Ministry of Defence (MoD) outlined two target sites. One was “a site at Bani … used to launch reconnaissance and attack drones” while the other site was “the airfield at Abbs”.
In a 12 January statement, the spokesperson for the Yemeni armed forces aligned with Ansar Allah, Brigadier General Yahya Sare’e, acknowledged that the strikes had hit the Yemeni capital, Sana’a, along with “the governorates of [Hudaydah], Taiz, Hajjah, and Sa’ada”, resulting in five fatalities and six injured.
Prominent targets of US and UK airstrikes on 12 January 2024 in Yemen. (Janes)
For more detail on weapons systems and military assets used by US and UK forces, please see:
The operation followed the passage of a UN Security Council (UNSC) resolution on 10 January, which condemned “in the strongest terms” Ansar Allah’s campaign of attacks on merchant and commercial vessels in the Red Sea. The resolution also took note of “the right of Member States, in accordance with international law, to defend their vessels”.
These strikes also came after Ansar Allah launched its largest barrage of missiles and UAVs to date towards the Red Sea on 9 January. According to a US CENTCOM statement from the same day, “eighteen [one way attack] UAVs, two anti-ship cruise missiles, and one anti-ship ballistic missile” were launched towards vessels in the Southern Red Sea. These were all intercepted by F/A-18 Super Hornets from USS Dwight D. Eisenhower , the Arleigh-Burke class USS Gravely , USS Laboon , USS Mason , and the UK Royal Navy’s HMS Diamond .
Furthermore, the 9 January attack was the first since Ansar Allah began attacks against Red Sea shipping on 19 November 2023 that the Yemeni group had deliberately targeted warships operating in the theatre. In a 10 January statement, Brig Gen Sare’e reported that the 9 January operation targeted “a US ship that was providing support for [Israel]”.
Before the airstrikes occurred, Ansar Allah’s messaging had carried a defiant tone. In an 11 January speech on Al-Masirah TV, Ansar Allah’s leader Abdul Malik Al‐Houthi warned that the group’s response to any attack by the US would “not only be as significant as the operation carried out [on 9 January] with more than 24 drones and several missiles, it will be even bigger”, according to an 11 January report by BBC Monitoring.
Brig Gen Sare’e also threatened that “American and British … aggression … will not go unanswered and unpunished” in his 12 January statement following the airstrikes. A further statement by the Ansar Allah’s Supreme Political Council (SPC) warned that “all American-British interests have become legitimate targets” as a result of the airstrikes. Janes assesses that Ansar Allah will almost certainly seek to respond with further missile and UAV attacks targeting the Red Sea in the immediate term, a timeframe dependent on the level of damage inflicted by the 12 January airstrikes and the time required for Ansar Allah to recover.
Coming in the aftermath of the 10 January UNSC resolution, the US CENTCOM statement regarding the airstrikes stressed the international backing for the operation, specifically “support from Australia, Canada, the Netherlands, and Bahrain”. However, Janes assesses that international and regional support for further airstrikes will likely be limited. This will be particularly true of Saudi Arabia, which continues to seek a peace agreement with Ansar Allah following nine years of conflict. In a 12 January statement, the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs called for “self-restraint and avoiding escalation”.
While the British Secretary of State for Defence, Grant Shapps, stated in a 10 January press conference that the UK, its Western allies, and Saudi Arabia “were all agreed” that Ansar Allah attacks on Red Sea shipping could not continue, Janes assesses that Riyadh will almost certainly be concerned that any escalation in the conflict between Ansar Allah and the coalition of nations operating in the Red Sea risks a resumption in attacks by Ansar Allah against the kingdom.
On 5 December 2023 a member of Ansar Allah’s Political Bureau, Mohammed Al-Bukhaiti, issued a warning for both Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). In an interview with France 24 Arabic, Bukhaiti stated that if Riyadh and Abu Dhabi act to protect Israel, then “Yemen will destroy their oil facilities and attack oil ships”. Janes assesses that, conscious of these threats, Saudi Arabia will be cautious about being associated with statements regarding future actions by the US and UK against Ansar Allah, as they are likely to risk escalating the conflict, jeopardising the ongoing peace negotiations between Riyadh and Ansar Allah, and only prolonging the risk to Red Sea shipping.
(Note: Items from news/wire services are abstracted from the originals and are not verbatim)