US organises 12-nation task force to counter Houthi attacks in the Red Sea

The Houthis have attacked ships passing through the Red Sea since the start of the Gaza war on October 7.

Newly recruited fighters who joined a Houthi military force intended to be sent to fight in support of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, march during a parade in Sanaa, Yemen December 2, 2023. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah/File Photo

A US defence official told Al Arabiya English that Washington has been negotiating with at least 12 countries as part of efforts to establish a maritime task force to ensure the safe passage of merchant ships in and around the Red Sea.

American officials have stated that they are looking for ways to expand the existing task force called Combined Task Force 153, which is currently based in Bahrain.

Currently, 39 countries are members of Task Force 153, but the US defence official said new talks are underway with 12 countries, focusing on measures to ensure the security of maritime navigation. The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, did not elaborate on which countries the US is negotiating with.

Since the war broke out between Hamas and Israel on the 7th of October, the Houthis supported Hamas and carried out a series of drone and missile attacks against Israel. These Iranian-backed militias have also attacked ships passing through the vital routes of the Red Sea.

The US military announced that the Houthis attacked the oil tanker Strinda, which was passing through the Bab al-Mandab Strait in the Red Sea, using an anti-ship cruise missile on Monday, December 11.

The Houthis claimed responsibility for the attack and declared they targeted the tanker because it was supposed to deliver crude oil to Israel. However, according to Reuters, the Norwegian owners of the tanker said that it was on its way to Italy and did not intend to stop in Israel.

Following increasing attacks by Iran-backed Houthis from Yemen on commercial ships as well as Israel, American officials have been considering the idea of forming a special force focused on the threats of these militias.

The US military announced that it has many reasons that the four attacks on commercial ships in the Red Sea last week were backed by Iran but were carried out by the Yemeni Houthis. The United States stressed that it would consider “all appropriate responses” to respond to the issue.

On Thursday, December 7, US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin discussed the Houthis’ threat to freedom of navigation in the Red Sea with regional officials.

The talks came days after the United States announced it was considering a framework for a naval task force.

Last week, in a call with his Israeli counterpart, the US Defence Minister condemned the increasing aggression of the Houthis in the Red Sea and said that such actions threaten the free flow of trade.

The Houthis have warned that the region’s security is now tied to the Gaza war and claimed they have the power to escalate tensions to a higher level.

The Islamic Republic of Iran denies involvement in the Houthi attack. However, Britain issued a statement on Monday, December 4, condemning the attacks by Yemen’s Houthi militias on commercial ships in the Red Sea and condemning the Islamic Republic of Iran for being implicit in these attacks.

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