According to the US Department of Defense, US and UK forces on 12 January at 03:30 (local time) launched airstrikes against strategic assets belonging to the rebel Houthi movement in Yemen. 

  • The airstrikes were conducted on more than 60 targets at 16 sites, including weapons depots, air-surveillance facilities and coastal radar systems.
  • The attacks mark a step change in tactics in the Red Sea by the US and its allies. However, the effectiveness of US-led naval coalition Operation Prosperity Guardian in deterring Houthi attacks will remain limited.
  • Over the coming two-to-three weeks, the Houthis will continue to attack vessels, though likely at a lower frequency and intensity as they seek to regroup and determine their next steps.


The US and UK governments over the last week have repeatedly signalled their intent to target Houthi assets in response to the Houthis’ targeting of merchant shipping vessels in the Red Sea since 19 October 2023. UN Security Council Resolution 2722 (2024), passed on 10 January, provided an international legal predicate for the strikes. 

In addition to the airstrikes conducted by the US and the UK, the US military also used the USS Florida guided missile submarine. The strikes targeted areas around Hodeidah International Airport (HOD) and Taiz International Airport (TIA), the capital Sanaa, and locations in the Houthi-controlled province of Saadah. Houthi spokesperson Yehya Sarea claimed that the strikes resulted in 11 casualties. According to US Central Command (CENTCOM), Australia, Canada, Bahrain and the Netherlands provided non-operational support to the US-led military action. 

According to Houthi representative Toufic al-Hmiari, the movement launched counterattacks on US vessels shortly afterwards. Yemeni online news reported that US and UK forces had conducted further attacks in Hodeidah and Saadah provinces.

Increased tension 

The attacks mark a step change in tactics in the Red Sea by the US and its allies amid the failure of Operation Prosperity Guardian to secure the waterway. The US and other Western countries participating in the operation are publicly adamant that they will not tolerate the Houthis’ attacks on vessels, particularly commercial vessels, in the Red Sea. They also do not want to appear impotent in the face of the rebels’ continued attacks. However, their options to deter and prevent continued Houthi activity in the Red Sea are limited. 

The US and UK governments will likely have intended the operation to be a one-off display of deterrence. However, although the attacks are likely to have temporarily degraded the rebel movement’s stocks of weapons, they are unlikely to halt Houthi attacks in the Red Sea entirely. The reported swift Houthi retaliation against the strikes will provide the group with cover to show it has countered foreign aggression and buy it time to assess the impact on its capabilities and recalibrate its tactics. The Houthis are likely to continue to attack vessels in the Red Sea over the coming days, though less frequently and likely with less intense targeting, including reducing or pausing the use of anti-ship ballistic missiles. 


There is potential for further US and UK airstrikes within the next two-to-three weeks if the Houthi movement demonstrates that it retains considerable firepower. However, although repeated operations would have some temporary impact on the group’s capabilities by reducing its weapons and materiel stockpiles, they would not fundamentally degrade its power. Meanwhile, any reduction in weapons supply would be short-lived as Iran, its main backer, will resupply it. 

Fundamentally, regional circumstances have not changed. The Houthis will retain the intent and capability to undermine security in the Red Sea as long as the conflict between Israel and Palestinian Islamist militant group Hamas in Gaza (Palestinian Territories) – which the Houthis have used as a pretext for their hostilities – continues. The US and its allies have very limited options to deter or stop the Houthis without seeking concessions from Israel on the war in Gaza, or engaging Iran in asymmetric targeting as a supporter of the Houthi movement. 

This article is based on a research note originally published in Seerist. Find out more about how Seerist’s adaptive artificial intelligence combined with localised geopolitical risk expertise can help you identify, monitor and mitigate risks. 

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