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US launches Red Sea force as ships reroute to avoid attacks by Houthis – Times of India


MANAMA: The US and a host of other nations are creating a new force to protect ships transiting the Red Sea that have come under attack by drones and ballistic missiles fired from Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen, defence secretary Lloyd Austin announced on Tuesday in Bahrain.
The seriousness of the attacks, several of which have damaged vessels, has led multiple shipping companies to order their ships to hold in place and not enter the Bab el-Mandeb Strait until the security situation can be addressed.
The US military’s Central Command reported two more of the attacks on commercial vessels Monday. A strike by an attack drone and a ballistic missile hit a tanker off Yemen, at roughly the same time a cargo ship reported an explosive detonating in the water near them, the military said.
“This is an international challenge that demands collective action,” defence secretary Lloyd Austin said in a statement released just after midnight in Bahrain. “Therefore today I am announcing the establishment of Operation Prosperity Guardian, an important new multinational security initiative.”
There are about 400 commercial vessels transiting the southern Red Sea, an area roughly the size of Washington D.C. to Boston, at any given time, a senior military official told reporters who are travelling with Austin in the region.
Under the new mission, the military ships will not necessarily escort a specific vessel, but will be positioned to provide umbrella protection to as many as possible at a given time, the official said.
Mohammed Abdel-Salam, the Houthis‘ chief negotiator and spokesman, challenged the US-led coalition on Tuesday, saying the Iranian-backed rebels would continue targeting Israel-linked vessels off Yemen. “The American-formed coalition is to protect Israel and militarise the sea without any justification, and will not stop Yemen from continuing its legitimate operations in support of Gaza,” he wrote on X. He said the Houthis’ attacks “are not a show of force nor a challenge to anyone,” adding, “Whoever seeks to expand the conflict must bear the consequences of his actions.”
On Tuesday the shipping company Maersk announced that for now, it had decided to re-route its ships that have been paused for days outside the strait and Red Sea, and send them around Africa through the Cape of Good Hope instead – a much longer and less efficient passage.
In the last four weeks, Houthi militants have attacked or seized commercial ships 12 times and still hold 25 members of the MV Galaxy Leader hostage in Yemen, Austin said in remarks on Tuesday in a ministerial meeting on the new maritime mission. The US is still actively seeking member countries to join the mission. The UK, Bahrain, Canada, France, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Seychelles and Spain have joined the new maritime security mission, Austin said. Some of those countries will conduct joint patrols while others provide intelligence support in the southern Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. One notably absent participant is China, which has warships in the region, but those ships have not responded to previous calls for assistance by commercial vessels, the military official said. Several other countries have also agreed to be involved in the operation but prefer not to be publicly named, a defence official said.


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