US and Britain strike at least 30 Houthi rebel targets in new wave of assaults on Iran-backed militants: F18 fighter jets and warships fire Tomahawk missiles from the Red Sea

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Written By Maya Cantina

The United States and Britain struck at least 30 Houthi targets in Yemen on Saturday in a second wave of assaults intended to further disable Iran-backed proxy militias. 

The latest strikes against the Houthis were launched the day after an air assault in Iraq and Syria that targeted other Iranian-backed groups and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. 

It marks an escalation of the conflict, in retaliation for the drone strike that killed three U.S. troops in Jordan last weekend.

Officials told The Associated Press that the strikes were targeted on groups that have relentlessly attacked American and international interests in the wake of the Israel-Hamas war. 

The Houthi targets were in 10 different locations, and were struck by U.S. F/A-18 fighter jets from the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower aircraft carrier and by American warships firing Tomahawk missiles from the Red Sea, the U.S. officials said.

A satellite photo of a military base known as Tower 22, a Jordanian base targeted by a bomb-carrying drone that killed three U.S. soldiers. The damage can be seen in the center left of the photo

The strikes come in retaliation to the deaths of Spc. Kennedy Sanders, Sgt. William Jerome Rivers (center) and Spc. Breonna Alexsondria Moffett (right), who were killed by a drone strike Sunday, Jan. 28, 2024, on their base in Jordan near the Syrian border

The strikes come in retaliation to the deaths of Spc. Kennedy Sanders, Sgt. William Jerome Rivers (center) and Spc. Breonna Alexsondria Moffett (right), who were killed by a drone strike Sunday, Jan. 28, 2024, on their base in Jordan near the Syrian border

The latest strikes on Saturday come as the US Military expands its presence in the Middle East, opening up the possibility for further conflict as it now wages wars on two fronts. 

Alongside targeting the Houthis in Yemen, military leaders are also focused on Iranian proxies that continue to strike US bases in Iraq, Syria and Jordan.  

It comes after an Iraqi militia official on Saturday hinted at a desire to deescalate tensions in the Middle East following the retaliatory strikes launched by the United States. 

Hussein al-Mosawi, spokesperson for Harakat al-Nujaba, one of the main Iranian-backed militias in Iraq, told The Associated Press that Washington ‘must understand that every action elicits a reaction.’

While condemning the US’s actions, the military official added that ‘we do not wish to escalate or widen regional tensions.’ 

Mosawi said the targeted sites in Iraq were mainly ‘devoid of fighters and military personnel at the time of the attack.’

Syrian state media reported that there were casualties from the strikes, but did not give a number. Rami Abdurrahman, who heads the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said that 23 people, all rank-and-file fighters, were killed.

President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden greet service members before boarding Air Force One, after attending a casualty return for the three servicemembers killed in the strike

President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden greet service members before boarding Air Force One, after attending a casualty return for the three servicemembers killed in the strike 

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin (left), Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. CQ Brown and Marine Corp. Sgt. Maj. Troy E. Black watch as an Army carry team moves the flag-draped transfer case containing the remains of three servicemembers killed by an Iranian-backed strike

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin (left), Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. CQ Brown and Marine Corp. Sgt. Maj. Troy E. Black watch as an Army carry team moves the flag-draped transfer case containing the remains of three servicemembers killed by an Iranian-backed strike 

An Army carry team loads the transfer case containing the remains of the three military servicemembers, whose deaths have triggered several waves of retaliatory strikes

An Army carry team loads the transfer case containing the remains of the three military servicemembers, whose deaths have triggered several waves of retaliatory strikes 

Iraqi government spokesperson Bassim al-Awadi said in a statement Saturday that the strikes in Iraq near the Syrian border killed 16, including civilians, and there was ‘significant damage’ to homes and private properties.

A U.S. official said Saturday that an initial battle damage assessment showed the U.S. had struck each of its planned targets, in addition to a few ‘dynamic targets’ that popped up as the mission unfolded.

These new targets included a surface-to-air missile site and drone launch sites. The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to provide details that were not yet public, did not yet have a casualty assessment.

Iraq´s foreign ministry announced Saturday it would summon the U.S. embassy´s chargé d´affaires – the ambassador being outside of the country – to deliver a formal protest over U.S. strikes on ‘Iraqi military and civilian sites.’ 

The U.S. said Friday it had informed Iraq of the impending strikes before they started.

The air assault was the opening salvo of U.S. retaliation for a drone strike that killed three U.S. troops in Jordan last weekend. The U.S. has blamed that on the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, a coalition of Iranian-backed militias.

Iran, meanwhile, has attempted to distance itself from the attack, saying that the militias act independently of its direction.

Iraqi spokesperson al-Awadi condemned the strikes as a violation of Iraqi sovereignty, particularly since some of them targeted facilities of the Population Mobilization Forces. 

US officials said they had informed Iraq of the impending strikes before they started Friday. Pictured is US Secretary of State Antony Blinken

US officials said they had informed Iraq of the impending strikes before they started Friday. Pictured is US Secretary of State Antony Blinken 

The PMF, a coalition of Iranian-backed militias, was officially brought under the umbrella of the Iraqi armed forces after it joined the fight against the Islamic State in 2014, but in practice it continues to operate largely outside of state control.

The Popular Mobilization Forces said in a statement Saturday that one of the sites targeted was an official security headquarters of the group. 

In addition to the 16 killed, it said 36 people had been wounded, ‘while the search is still ongoing for the bodies of a number of the missing.’

The Iraqi government has been in a delicate position since a group of Iranian-backed Iraqi militias calling itself Islamic Resistance in Iraq – many of whose members are also part of the PMF – began launching attacks on U.S. bases in Iraq and Syria on October 18. 

The group described the strikes as retaliation for Washington’s support for Israel in the war in Gaza.

Behind the scenes, Iraqi officials have attempted to rein in the militias, while also condemning U.S. retaliatory strikes as a violation of Iraqi sovereignty and calling for an exit of the 2,500 U.S. troops who are in the country as part of an international coalition to fight IS. 

Last month, Iraqi and U.S. military officials launched formal talks to wind down the coalition’s presence, a process that will likely take years.

One of the main Iran-backed militias, Kataib Hezbollah, said it was suspending attacks on American troops following Sunday’s strike that killed the U.S. troops in Jordan, to avoid “embarrassing” the Iraqi government.

Meanwhile Saturday, the U.S. military´s Central Command acknowledged it had had a series of skirmishes in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden with Yemen´s Houthi rebels. On Friday, the USS Carney shot down a drone over the Gulf of Aden and there were no injuries or damage. 

The U.S. also conducted airstrikes on four Houthi drones preparing to launch that it said ‘presented an imminent threat to merchant vessels and the U.S. Navy ships in the region.’

On Saturday, Central Command said it struck six additional anti-ship cruise missiles that it said were prepared to launch and presented an imminent threat.

Overnight, F/A-18 fighter jets from the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower aircraft carrier, along with the USS Laboon, shot down seven drones in the Red Sea.

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