US Navy facing 'most sustained combat since WWII' in Red Sea

The U.S. Navy is engaged in intense combat with Iran-backed Houthi rebels from Yemen the Associated Press reported on Friday. 

This conflict, which has been overshadowed by the Israel-Hamas war, is the most significant sea battle the Navy has faced since World War II.

The Houthis have been targeting more than 50 vessels in the Red Sea, leading to a drop in shipping traffic in the crucial corridor to the Suez Canal. The Houthis claim their attacks are to stop the Gaza war and support Palestinians while also trying to strengthen their position in Yemen.

The Navy's mission to keep international waterways open has led to daily confrontations with the Houthis, who have upgraded from using assault rifles and pickup trucks to drones, missiles, and other advanced weaponry. These attacks have forced U.S. sailors to respond quickly to incoming threats.

Since November, the Houthis have launched near-daily attacks, including missiles, drones, and other weapons, targeting the Red Sea, Gulf of Aden, and the Bab el-Mandeb Strait. One notable incident on January 9 involved U.S. ships and aircraft downing 18 drones, two anti-ship cruise missiles, and a ballistic missile.

The Navy has faced similar periods of combat during the 1980s Tanker Wars, but the current conflict is more sustained. The Eisenhower and its supporting ships, including the USS Laboon and USS Cole, are heavily involved, often spending most of their time near Yemen.

Rear Adm. Marc Miguez confirmed Iran's support for the Houthis, providing financial, intelligence, and military training despite U.N. sanctions. The U.S.-led campaign has carried out numerous airstrikes against Houthi positions in Yemen.

"We currently have pretty high confidence that not only is Iran providing financial support, but they’re providing intelligence support," Miguez said. "We know for a fact the Houthis have also gotten training to target maritime shipping and target U.S. warships."

The conflict continues to impact shipping and regional stability, with significant economic consequences, such as halved revenue from the Suez Canal for Egypt.

Who are the Houthi rebels and why are they attacking the US?

The Houthi rebels, also known as Ansar Allah, are a Zaydi Shiite group from Yemen. They emerged from the Saada region and have been engaged in a prolonged civil war against a Saudi-led coalition since 2015. The group has gained significant support and military aid from Iran, which has enabled them to enhance their capabilities from basic arms to sophisticated drones and missiles.

The Houthis are attacking U.S. interests for several reasons:

  1. Regional Influence: By targeting U.S. naval forces, the Houthis aim to assert their presence and disrupt American operations in the strategically vital Red Sea corridor.
  2. Solidarity with Palestinians: The rebels claim their attacks are in response to the conflict in Gaza, aiming to pressure the U.S. and its allies to cease their support for Israel.
  3. Strengthening Position in Yemen: These attacks serve to bolster the Houthis' standing within Yemen, showcasing their ability to confront major powers and enhance their bargaining position in any future negotiations.
  4. Iranian Support: Backed by Iran, the Houthis' actions align with Tehran's broader strategy to challenge U.S. influence in the Middle East, leveraging the conflict to increase regional tensions.

These factors combine to drive the Houthis' aggressive tactics against the U.S., creating a complex and dangerous situation in the region.

The Associated Press contributed to this story. It was reported from Los Angeles.