US President Joe Biden says strikes on the Houthis in Yemen have not stopped the group’s Red Sea attacks, and that the US operation will continue.
The US carried out a fifth round of strikes in Yemen on Thursday after a US ship was struck by a Houthi drone.
White House spokesman John Kirby told reporters that US forces “took out a range of Houthi missiles” that were about to be fired towards the Red Sea.
He said the American attacks took place on Wednesday and again on Thursday.
Mr Biden was asked by reporters in Washington DC if the strikes on Houthi targets were working.
“Well, when you say working are they stopping the Houthis? No,” he said.
“Are they gonna continue? Yes.”
US Central Command – which oversees US operations in the Middle East – said in a statement that it had “conducted strikes on two Houthi anti-ship missiles that were aimed into the Southern Red Sea and were prepared to launch” on Thursday.
“US forces identified the missiles in Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen” around 15:40 local time (12:40GMT) “and determined they were an imminent threat to merchant vessels and US Navy ships in the region”.
“US forces subsequently struck and destroyed the missiles in self-defense.”
Pentagon Deputy Press Secretary Sabrina Singh later told reporters at a briefing: “We do not seek war.”
“We are not at war with the Houthis. Actions we are taking are defensive in nature.”
UK Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) reported on Thursday that a Marshall Island’s flagged tanker had been approached by drones off the coast of Yemen, and that one had dropped into the ocean. An Indian warship responded to the incident, it added.
Maritime security firm Ambrey said the tanker was US-owned and that there was no damage or casualties.
Yemen’s military spokesperson later released a statement saying that there had been “direct hits” to the US ship Chem Ranger. It is unclear if this statement relates to the incident the UKMTO and Ambrey refer to.
A US-owned vessel was also hit on Wednesday, hours after Washington re-designated the Houthis as a terrorist organisation.
In a fiery speech on Thursday, the leader of the Houthis called it a “great honour” to be “in direct confrontation” with Israel, the US and the UK.
“The aggression against our dear people is a violation, aggression, a direct encroachment of the sovereignty of Yemen and a direct assault on the Yemeni people”, said Abdul Malik al-Houthi.
The Houthis began attacking merchant vessels in November, saying they were responding to Israel’s military operation in Gaza. Since then, the group has launched dozens of attacks on commercial tankers passing through the Red Sea, one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.
In response, the US and UK launched a wave of air strikes against dozens of Houthi targets on 11 January. The strikes – supported by Australia, Bahrain, the Netherlands and Canada – began after Houthi forces ignored an ultimatum to cease attacks in the region.