A US Navy official announced the formation of a new multinational naval task force to respond to Houthi attacks on regional countries, target arms smuggling, and people and drugs trafficking.
The initiative comes amid strained relations between some Gulf countries and the United States against Iran, which Washington and the UN accuse of inflaming the crisis in Yemen and supplying the Houthis with weapons to attack Yemenis and target infrastructure in Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
The US Navy said Wednesday that it is establishing a new multinational task force that would target arms smuggling in the waters around Yemen, the latest American military response to Houthi attacks on Saudi Arabia and the UAE, following the missile and drone attacks on the Gulf nations.
Fifth Fleet Commander Vice Admiral Brad Cooper said that the task force would ensure a force presence and deterrent posture in the Red Sea, Bab al-Mandab, and the Gulf of Aden and target human trafficking, drug, and other illicit goods smuggling.
Cooper explained on a call with reporters and quoted by Reuters that "these are strategically important waters that warrant our attention," adding that the new naval task force would consist of between two and eight vessels and is part of the 34-nation Combined Maritime Forces, which he also commands, that has three other task forces in nearby waters targeting smuggling and piracy.
Asked about the air raids from Yemen on US partners Saudi Arabia and the UAE, Cooper said the task force would impact the Houthi's ability to obtain the weaponry needed for such attacks, saying “we'll be able to do it more vibrantly and more directly than we do today."
A US official told Reuters, on condition of anonymity, that the waters between Somalia, Djibouti, and Yemen were well-known "smuggling paths" for weapons destined for the Houthis.
Iran has long been accused of smuggling weapons to the Houthis, a charge it denies, but the US provided evidence of Iran's involvement in arms supplies to the Houthis, providing logistical support and military training to them is sufficient.
Last month, the Fifth Fleet announced the outcomes of the defense dialogue and meetings between the US and the Gulf Cooperation Council, as the participants agreed to develop a "common defense vision" in the region to "deter air and maritime threats" done by Iran and its militias.
A statement by the US Ministry of Defense (Pentagon), by spokeswoman Cindi King, stated that the meeting that Washington held with Gulf counterparts in Riyadh stressed the importance of strengthening the ability of the GCC countries to collectively address these threats affirming the longstanding defense partnership.
The countries reaffirmed a shared commitment to regional security under the framework of the GCC-US Strategic Partnership.
An official at the US Defense Department told Asharq Al-Awsat earlier that the US was committed to bolstering Saudi Arabia's security against "dangerous external threats." He explained that defense cooperation was ongoing with Riyadh, as was the transfer of weapons, defense trade, training, and other exchanges.
The United States pledged on various occasions to continue providing Saudi Arabia with the necessary means to defend its territories and repel attacks carried out by the Iran-backed Houthi militias in Yemen.
At the same time, it has demanded an immediate end to the war in Yemen and urged against targeting civilians and infrastructure in neighboring countries.