The USA and UK have for the first time carried out military strikes in the Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen, following a substantial attack against commercial shipping in the Red Sea.

Sorties by UK Royal Air Force (RAF) Eurofighter Typhoon FGR4s and missiles from the US Navy struck more than a dozen targets across Yemen, including in the Houthi-held capital of Sanaa in the early hours of 12 January local time.

Targets included sites associated with a range of Houthi offensive capabilities, according to the Pentagon, including unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), ballistic and cruise missiles, coastal radars and air surveillance equipment. 

US ships launched precision Tomahawk cruise missiles, while the UK deployed Eurofighter Typhoons from the RAF.

“These strikes are in direct response to unprecedented Houthi attacks against international maritime vessels in the Red Sea – including the use of anti-ship ballistic missiles for the first time in history,” US President Joe Biden said on the evening of 11 January in Washington, shortly after the action was carried out.

Typhoon Houthi strikes

Source: UK Ministry of Defence

The US Navy reportedly fired Tomahawk precision cruise missiles from surface ships and submarines, while the UK Royal Air Force launched fighter sorties with Eurofighter Typhoon FGR4s in the Red Sea coalition’s first direct strike against Houthi targets in Yemen

The White House says Houthi forces have launched more than 27 attacks against commercial shipping in the area, with crews from more than 20 countries having either been threatened or taken hostage.

On 9 January, the Iran-backed Houthis carried out a massive attack against commercial vessels in the region – including at least one US ship – that involved the use of suicide UAVs and precision munitions, including an anti-ship ballistic missile.

Ships and fighters from the UK and USA shot down 18 UAVs and two cruise missiles in that attack.

“This cannot stand,” UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said on 11 January, referencing the massive Houthi attack.

Sunak describes the UK’s action as “limited, necessary and proportionate action [taken] in self-defence, alongside the United States with non-operational support from the Netherlands, Canada and Bahrain against targets tied to these attacks, to degrade Houthi military capabilities and protect global shipping.”

The Associated Press in Yemen reports multiple strikes in Sanaa, the Red Sea port city of Hodieda and the southwestern city of Taiz.

The strikes mark the first time Western allies have directly hit Houthi targets on the Yemeni mainland. US naval helicopters sunk three small boats operated by Houthi forces in the Red Sea on 31 December 2023. Washington said that the action was taken in self defence, after the Houthi boats fired upon the US helicopters during an attempted cargo ship hijacking.

The Yemeni rebel group, which is supported materially and financially by Tehran, began its air and sea campaign against Red Sea shipping in retaliation for the ongoing Israeli military operation in Gaza following terrorist group Hamas’s assault against Israel on 7 October 2023.

The UN Security Council on 10 January passed a resolution demanding the Houthis cease further attacks on commercial shipping.

The White House says the US military stands ready to respond to any further aggression.

“I will not hesitate to direct further measures to protect our people and the free flow of international commerce as necessary,” Biden says.