US launches international task force to counter Houthi attacks

US launches international task force to counter Houthi attacks

The U.S. is responding to the escalating crisis in the Red Sea by announcing Tuesday it has launched an international task force for maritime security, but so far only nine other politically similar nations are confirmed to have joined on — sparking doubt that the coalition can put an end to militia attacks on vessels in the region and calm anxious shipping companies.

State Department officials said the Biden administration’s initial goal was to bring together a broad array of international powers to rein in the Houthis, an armed group backed by Iran that controls a significant amount of territory in Yemen.

However, when Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced the initiative, dubbed Operation Prosperity Guardian, the U.S. said it had only managed to recruit the United Kingdom, Bahrain, Canada, France, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Seychelles and Spain — seven NATO allies and two small island nations.

Asked about whether the coalition could have a meaningful impact, White House spokesperson John Kirby said on Tuesday that time would tell.

“There’s going to be a whole lot of hardware in the Red Sea now, naval hardware, not just from the United States, but other ships from other nations to counter these threats,” he said. “So let’s see where it goes.”

Although a State Department official said that the U.S. has sent multiple messages to the Houthis via various diplomatic channels warning them against continuing their indiscriminate attacks, those threats appear to have had little impact, as the Houthis continue to insist they will stop only when Israel’s war in Gaza ends.

That link between the conflict and the Houthis’ own provocations appears to have had significant sway over Arab countries where public sympathy for the Palestinian people’s plight often influences political decisions.

Even though the Middle East depends heavily on the impacted trade routes, Bahrain is the sole nation in the region taking part in the task force, and it’s still unclear whether it will go so far as to support the mission by supplying manpower or ships.