WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. fighter jets struck Iran-backed Houthi rebel sites for the sixth time Friday, shooting down three ready-to-fire anti-ship missiles in Yemen, U.S. officials said.
The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the ongoing military operations, said the attacks were carried out by F/A-18 aircraft on the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower. And they were similar to similar U.S. attacks on Houthi launchers that have occurred almost daily this week.
In a statement later on Friday, US Central Command said the attack occurred around 6:45 p.m. local time in Sanaa, Yemen's capital, and that the missiles were aimed at the southern Red Sea and prepared to be fired. It said the US determined they posed an imminent threat to merchant vessels and US Navy vessels in the region and therefore attacked them in self-defense. The statement did not say how the attacks were carried out.
President Joe Biden acknowledged Thursday that the bombing of Houthi sites, including a massive series of attacks by U.S. and British forces on Jan. 12, was the militants' attacks on ships in the Red Sea that have disrupted global shipping , hasn't stopped yet.
Al-Masirah, a Houthi-run satellite news channel, said there were airstrikes in the western city of Hodieda on Friday, targeting the al-Jabaana neighborhood in the west of the city. The location of the US strikes could not immediately be confirmed.
U.S. warships and aircraft have shot down ready-to-launch Houthi missiles in rapid succession in recent days, underscoring the military's increasing ability to observe, detect and attack militant activity in Yemen.
At the White House, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby noted the increase in preventative missions.
“This is the fourth preventive action taken by the US military in the past week against Houthi missile launchers that were ready to launch attacks, in this case anti-ship missiles,” he said, adding that the self-defense strikes are aimed at improving safety on shipping routes.
But so far the attacks have not deterred Houthi attacks on ships in the southern Red Sea or the Gulf of Aden, which also occur almost daily.
The Biden administration has added the Houthis back to its list of specially designated global terrorists. The sanctions associated with the formal designation are intended to cut off violent extremist groups from their sources of funding while allowing vital humanitarian aid to continue to flow to impoverished Yemenis. And the White House has made it clear that retaliatory strikes will continue.
“They continue to have offensive capabilities and remain prepared to use them,” Kirby said. “We also have sufficient defense capabilities and continue to use them.”
For months, the Houthis have been attacking ships in the Red Sea that they say are either linked to Israel or bound for Israeli ports. They say their attacks are aimed at ending Israel's air and ground offensive in the Gaza Strip, which was triggered by the Palestinian militant group Hamas' October 7 attack in southern Israel. But the connections to the target ships of the rebel attacks become weaker and weaker the longer the attacks last.
_____ Associated Press writer Zeke Miller contributed to this report.