The Houthis on Wednesday launched their first attack in nearly a week on commercial shipping.
US forces have been carrying out a handful of preemptive strikes against the rebels lately.
The strikes have hit multiple anti-ship missiles that were prepared to launch and posed a threat.
The US military has changed tactics in how it deals with Houthi attacks on commercial shipping, now conducting preemptive strikes against the Iran-backed rebels regularly, and it appears to be having an effect.
A US Navy warship on Wednesday shot down two anti-ship ballistic missiles fired by the Houthis at the M/V Maersk Detroit, a container ship that's flagged, owned, and operated by the US, while a third missile landed in the water, according to a statement from US Central Command, or CENTCOM.
This marked the Houthis' first confirmed missile launch in nearly a week, although it's not for a lack of trying. US forces have been consistently blowing up their missiles before the rebels even have a chance to launch them.
The tactic shift happened last week. On Jan. 18, the Houthi rebels fired two anti-ship ballistic missiles at a US-owned and Greek-operated tanker. CENTCOM said this marked their third attack on commercial ships in as many days. Since then, the US has carried out at least four rounds of preemptive strikes against Houthi anti-ship missiles that were aimed at either the southern Red Sea or the Gulf of Aden, two key routes for global shipping.
In each instance — on Jan. 19, 20, 22, and 24 — the Pentagon said its forces hit the missiles while they were "prepared to launch" and presented an immediate "threat" to merchant vessels and US Navy ships in the region. The military asserted in all four cases that it destroyed the Houthi missiles in "self-defense" and its actions make international waters off the coast of Yemen safer to transit.
The US military's preemptive — and unilateral — strikes on the Houthi missiles represent a notable shift in tactics since Washington first opted to strike the rebels on Jan. 11 alongside British forces.
Prior to that escalated response, Western militaries had spent months shooting down Houthi threats without taking any retaliatory kinetic action inside Yemen. After intercepting threats ultimately proved insufficient, Washington and its allies then issued warnings that the rebels would face serious consequences if they didn't stop their attacks on international shipping. They weren't deterred, and military action eventually followed. The Houthi rebels are, however, still trying to launch attacks.
Amid the US military's multiple preemptive strikes, American and British forces on Monday carried out another round of joint strikes, targeting Houthi sites and facilities across Yemen.
The US assesses it has "destroyed or degraded" more than 25 missile launch and deployment facilities, over 20 missiles, and also hit drone, radar, weapons storage, and air surveillance capabilities "with good effects" since the initial round of strikes earlier this month, Pentagon Press Secretary Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder said during a Tuesday briefing.
Ryder noted that the US has conducted several "self-defense strikes" over the past week when facing "an imminent threat or an anticipated launch," which he indicated will remain a focus for the Pentagon.
He acknowledged, however, that the Houthis — who boast a formidable arsenal of Iranian-provided weaponry — do still retain "some" of their capabilities. How much, exactly, is unclear, although Pentagon officials estimate the rebels maintain a majority of their ability to launch missiles and drones at ships, per The New York Times.
"It's not out of the question that there could be additional strikes," Ryder explained at the recent briefing. "But again, our goal here is to ensure that the Red Sea is safe and secure for international shipping and mariners. That is our only goal."
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