The United States on Thursday launched cruise missile strikes that destroyed three radar sites on the coast of Yemen, retaliating following missile attacks against a U.S. Navy destroyer earlier this week, but also escalating a conflict that threatens to further entangle America in yet another war in the Middle East.
The missile launches mark the first overt, direct U.S. military action against Houthi-controlled targets in the ongoing conflict in Yemen, although the U.S. and Britain have been funneling arms to the Saudi-led coalition that is fighting the Houthis for some time.
The attacks against the Navy destroyer that prompted the U.S. strikes, which the U.S. says likely came from Houthi-controlled areas, followed an atrocious bombing of a funeral in Yemen last weekend that killed more than 140 people and injured over 500. Although that bombing was carried out by the Saudi-led coalition, the bombs used were apparently manufactured in the U.S. by military contractor Raytheon.
Bloody conflicts have been ongoing in Yemen for years, but have gotten worse in the past year and a half since Saudi Arabia launched a bombing campaign in March of 2015 following the ousting of the Saudi-backed Yemeni president, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, by the Houthi movement, a Shia rebel group. Prior to American retaliation strikes on Thursday, some were already warning that escalating the situation could backfire on the U.S. “If the U.S. does act, it will be drawn deeper into an increasingly ugly and complex fight in Yemen,” CBS News reported.
“Neglected diplomatically by the US and Europe, let down by UN human rights watchdog, fuelled by US and British arms sales and exploited and manipulated by Iran, the conflict in Yemen is another Syria, on a smaller scale,” the Guardian’s Simon Tisdall wrote on Monday. “Like Syria it has increasing potential to blow up in the west’s face.”
On Tuesday, before the U.S. retaliation strikes on Yemeni targets, State Department Spokesman John Kirby was asked what difference there was between the violence against civilians that the U.S. accuses Syria, Russia and Iran of carrying out in Aleppo and that perpetrated by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen. Kirby struggled to answer the question.
“What we’re seeing in Aleppo is nothing but a concerted effort over recent days to take that city by force, to subdue it by force,” Kirby ultimately said. “This isn’t indiscriminate, haphazard, accidental bombing of infrastructure. It’s very deliberate.”
Following Thursday’s cruise missile strikes, Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook described them as “limited self-defense strikes” that “were conducted to protect our personnel, our ships and our freedom of navigation.” He also reportedly said that the U.S. “will respond to any further threat to our ships and commercial traffic, as appropriate.”
The Houthis, meanwhile, claim that they never even attacked the U.S. Navy destroyer to begin with.
“On Thursday, the Houthis reiterated a denial that they carried out the strikes and said they did not come from areas under their control, a news agency controlled by the group reported a military source as saying,” according to Reuters. “The allegations were false pretexts to ‘escalate aggression and cover up crimes committed against the Yemeni people’, the source said.”
Whatever the truth of the matter, and whether America has any meaningful justification for getting more deeply involved in the conflict in Yemen, that appears to be what is rapidly happening, like it or not.