Yemen’s Houthis continue attacks despite air strikes

Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels have shown they remain capable of launching significant attacks despite recent air strikes.

Just this week, they seriously damaged a ship in a crucial strait and apparently downed a US drone worth tens of millions of dollars.

The continued assaults by the Houthis on shipping through the crucial Red Sea corridor, the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, against the backdrop of Israel’s war on Hamas in the Gaza Strip underscore the challenges in trying to stop the guerrilla-style attacks that have seen them hold onto Yemen’s capital and much of the war-ravaged country’s north since 2014.

Meanwhile, the campaign has boosted the rebels’ standing in the Arab world, despite their own human rights abuses in a years-long stalemated war with several allies of the US in the region.

The continued assaults by the Houthis on shipping through the crucial Red Sea corridor
Supporters hold a photo of the Houthi leader Abdul-Malik Badruldeen al-Houthi (Osamah Abdulrahman/AP)

On Monday, both the Houthis and Western officials acknowledged one of the most-serious attacks on shipping launched by the rebels.

The Houthis targeted the Belize-flagged bulk carrier Rubymar with two anti-ship ballistic missiles, one of which struck the vessel, the US military’s Central Command said.

The Rubymar, which already had reported problems with its propulsion back in November, apparently became inoperable, forcing her crew to abandon the vessel.

Houthi military spokesman Brigadier General Yahya Saree claimed on Monday night that the Rubymar sank, though there was no immediate independent confirmation of that.

But even if it was still afloat, the attack marked one of only a few direct, serious hits by the Houthi rebels on shipping.

In late January, another direct hit by the Houthis set a Marshall Islands-flagged tanker ablaze for hours.

Meanwhile, the Houthis early on Tuesday released footage of what they described as a surface-to-air missile bringing down a US MQ-9 Reaper drone off the coast of Hodeida, a Yemeni port city held by the Houthis on the Red Sea.

The footage also included video of men dragging pieces of debris from the water onto a beach.

Images of the debris, which included writing in English and what appeared to be electrical equipment, appeared to correspond to known pieces of the Reaper, which can be used in both attack missions and surveillance flights.

Central Command and the US Air Force’s Mideast arm have not responded to questions over the apparent downing.

In November, the Pentagon acknowledged the loss of an MQ-9, also shot down by the rebels over the Red Sea.

Since Yemen’s Houthi rebels seized the country’s north and its capital of Sanaa in 2014, the US military has lost at least four drones to shootdowns by the rebels, in 2017, 2019 and this year.

Meanwhile, the Houthis also claimed an attack on the Sea Champion, a Greek-flagged, US-owned bulk carrier bound for Aden, Yemen, carrying grain from Argentina.

The Houthis separately claimed an attack on the Marshall Islands-flagged bulk carrier Navis Fortuna as well, a ship that had been broadcasting its destination as Italy with an “all Chinese” crew to avoid being targeted.

Private security firm Ambrey reported that the vessel sustained minor damage in a drone attack.

Since November, the rebels have repeatedly targeted ships in the Red Sea and surrounding waters over Israel’s war targeting Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

They have frequently targeted vessels with tenuous or no clear links to Israel, imperilling shipping in a key route for trade among Asia, the Mideast and Europe.

Yemen Israel Palestinians US
Coffins of Houthi fighters killed in the US-led strikes on Yemen (Osamah Abdulrahman/AP)

So far, no US sailor or pilot has been wounded by the Houthis since America launched its series of airstrikes targeting the rebels back in January.

However, the US continues to lose drones worth tens of millions of dollars and fire off million-dollar cruise missiles to counter the Houthis, who are using far-cheaper weapons that experts believe largely have been supplied by Iran to wage an asymmetrical battle on the seas.

US and allied forces have, according to sources, destroyed at least 73 missiles of different types before they were launched, as well as 17 drones, 13 bomb-laden drone boats and one underwater explosive drone over their monthlong campaign.

Those figures do not include the initial January 11 joint US-UK strikes that began the campaign.

The US military also has shot down dozens of missiles and drones already airborne as well since November.

The Houthis themselves have not offered much information regarding their own losses, though they have acknowledged at least 22 of their fighters have been killed in the US-led strikes.

Insurgent forces including the Houthis and allied tribes in Yemen number around 20,000 fighters, according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

They can operate in small units away from military bases, making targeting them more difficult than a traditional military force.

For the Houthis, they may view the costs as balanced by their sudden fame within an Arab world enraged by the killing of women and civilians by Israel in the Gaza Strip amid its war on Hamas.

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