White House national security spokesman John Kirby said Friday that commercial shipping in the Red Sea is now “more dangerous” due to Houthi attacks and that the White House will have more to say about the details of the naval task force in the coming days.
Yemen’s Houthis have attacked ships in Red Sea waterways in recent weeks and fired drones and missiles at Israel, saying they aimed to support the Palestinians as Israel launches a war in Gaza.
U.S. envoy to Yemen Tim Lenderking told Reuters the United States wanted to form the “broadest possible naval coalition” to protect Red Sea ships and send an “important signal” to the Houthis that further attacks would not be tolerated. .
Lenderking said the United States hopes the multinational coalition will “send an important signal to the international community that the Houthi armed threat to international shipping will not be tolerated.”
The U.S. aims to expand the current International Maritime Task Force into “an international coalition that allocates some resources to protect freedom of navigation,” he added in an interview at a conference in Doha this week.
The current Red Sea and Gulf of Aden task force, known as Joint Task Force 153, is a 39-nation coalition led by Bahrain-based U.S. Fifth Fleet Vice Adm.
Lenderking explained that “Washington is actively evaluating the measures necessary to allow the Houthis to prevent escalation,” and called on the Yemeni group to release the crew of the Galaxy Leader ship it seized in November. 19.
Lenderking declined to specify which countries or how many countries Washington has contacted to join the expanded alliance, but he said it should be “the broadest possible alliance.”
White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters last week that Washington was in talks with other countries about forming a naval task force that would “ensure the safe passage of ships in the Red Sea,” but he gave no further details.
Maritime transport authorities issued a warning on Friday, stressing that shipping companies must be careful when contracting armed guards and placing them on ships transiting the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, amid a rise in attacks on ships and the potential for escalation.
The shipping industry’s main association issued a warning on Friday, urging companies to “complete a comprehensive risk assessment when considering the use of armed guards.”
“Caution must be exercised when managing their employment and rules of engagement must take into account the risks of escalation,” the warning said.
A wave of attacks against commercial ships in recent days has prompted some shipping companies to halt sea voyages across the Red Sea.
British maritime security company Ambrey said this week that an “exchange of gunfire” had occurred between armed guards on the ship and armed attackers.
Armed guards have been deployed on commercial ships passing through these waters for years, shipping sources said, helping to curb Somali pirate attacks for more than a decade.
The Marshall Islands Shipping Registry said in a separate memo on Thursday that it had recommended that ships “re-evaluate the rules on the use of force with maritime security companies.”
“A clear distinction must be made between suspected attackers armed with small arms and troops with more advanced weapons,” the warning said, adding that clashes with troops were not recommended as it “could lead to a serious escalation of the situation.”
The Houthis, who rule much of Yemen, said their attacks were aimed at showing solidarity with the Palestinians and pledged to continue until Israel halts its offensive in the Gaza Strip, more than 1,600 kilometers from Sanaa.
Since the conflict between Israel and Hamas began more than two months ago, the Houthis and several other Iran-linked groups, such as Lebanese Hezbollah and some armed groups in Iraq, have launched attacks on Israeli and U.S. targets. attacked.
Attacks by Yemen’s Houthi rebels target the flow of materials between Asia and the West, posing a major threat to the global economy.
The attacks have led to rising costs for shipping goods across the Red Sea, which London insurance markets now label as a high-risk area.
About 23,000 ships pass through the Bab el-Mandab Strait every year, which connects the Gulf of Aden to the Red Sea and extends to the Suez Canal.