Houthis defy international warnings, launch first ‘drone boat’ attack

As the Biden administration faced growing calls to launch offensive strikes against Houthi military assets, Vice Admiral Brad Cooper, who leads US Naval forces in the Middle East, said the international coalition to protect freedom of navigation in the Red Sea was defensive in nature.


“Anything that happens outside of the defensive aspect of this operation is a completely different operation,” Cooper told reporters.

Pressed on what action the US and its partners may take, Cooper said: “I’ll let the statement speak for itself, which, again, represented many nations around the world and highlighted that if these strikes don’t stop, there will be consequences.”

Cooper said the Houthi drone boat was carrying a payload of explosives and travelled about 24 kilometres before it exploded.

He said that it approached within sight of American warships and nearby commercial vessels before it detonated in plain view.


While the intended target vessel was not known, he said it was “clearly [launched] with the intent to do harm.”

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said Australia wanted to see the attacks in the Red Sea end, but declined to comment on how it could contribute to international efforts to restore order in the maritime passage beyond the measures already announced.

“This is about freedom of navigation and the attacks are completely unacceptable,” Albanese said.

“And that’s why you’ve seen a response by the US led group of which Australia is contributing at the moment in Bahrain.

“We recently doubled the size of our participants in the headquarters there and we continue to work with our allies, which is why you had such a comprehensive and very strong statement made.“


Albanese said Australia and the other 11 countries – which included the United States, United Kingdom and Japan – had sent “a clear message to the Houthis and to anyone else who wants to cause damage with the unprovoked attacks that are occurring” through a joint statement on Thursday. It said, “the Houthis will bear the responsibility of the consequences should they continue to threaten lives, the global economy and free flow of commerce in the region’s critical waterways.”

Kenneth Franklin McKenzie jnr, who served as commander of the US Central Command from 2019 to 2022, criticised the Biden administration for being indecisive in the face of aggression from Iranian proxies.

“Even before Hamas’s October 7 attack, Iranian forces were launching missile and drone strikes on our bases across the region, acting through proxies that gave them a measure of deniability,” he wrote in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal.


“Our response has consistently been tentative, overly signalled and unfocused.”

“To reset deterrence, we must apply violence that Tehran understands.”

With agencies

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