US looking to expand international maritime partnership to counter Red Sea Houthi attacks

US is recruiting new members to the Combined Maritime Forces

Andrew Feinberg
Thursday 07 December 2023 19:32 GMT

Related video: US to take ‘appropriate action’ against Iran-backed Houthi militia after ship attacks

The United States is now heading up efforts to bolster the Combined Maritime Forces so the 39-member partnership can better address attacks on ships at sea by Iranian-backed Houthi rebels, the White House has said.

National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said the US State Department and the Department of Defence are “leading a coordinated effort to strengthen and expand” the alliance, which currently operates a multinational naval task force to enforce maritime security on the Red Sea.

“Our focus at this time, is ensuring that there are sufficient military assets in place to deter these Houthi threats to maritime trade in the Red Sea and in the surrounding waters to the global economy writ large,” said Mr Kirby, who addressed reporters at the daily White House press briefing on Thursday.

Mr Kirby also said the United States is currently “encouraging other like-minded nations to join this coalition,” adding that the US government has “heard some interest from several key partners that are interested in coming aboard”.

The National Security Council spokesperson’s announcement comes just days after Jake Sullivan, President Joe Biden’s national security adviser, said the Iranian government was enabling the Houthis to attack ships at sea, including at least one US warship that downed a Houthi drone over the weekend.

The guided-missile destroyer USS Carney intervened to protect commercial ships under attack by Houthis (Petty Officer 3rd Class Bill Dodge/AP)

Mr Kirby said the Houthi attacks “represent a direct threat to international commerce and a freedom of navigation” and have “jeopardised the lives of merchant sailors that represent multiple countries all around the world”.

“While they are launched by the Houthis, we certainly have every reason to believe that they’re being enabled by Iran,” he said.

He added that the US is “leading an international coordinated effort to condemn these Houthi attacks and their threat to global commerce, including ... through targeted efforts through the UN Security Council”.

“This is an international problem. And it demands an international solution and that is exactly the approach that the United States is going to take to it now,” Mr Kirby continued before stressing that the commanding officers of all US Navy vessels are fully empowered to defend their ships and will “execute their inherent right of self-defence”.

“As we have in the past, we will in the future, take these missiles and drones down if we perceive a threat to our ships, our sailors, the ships and sailors of our partners and of course, merchant traffic in and around the region,” he said.

The USS Carney, a United States Navy destroyer, opened fire in self-defence and shot down three drones during the hours-long assault on Sunday, the US Central Command said in a statement.

It said the US destroyer detected a ballistic missile fired at a commercial vessel from Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen.

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