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Ryan Robertson

Anchor, Investigative Reporter

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International

US Navy leads international coalition to protect Red Sea shipping

Dec 19, 2023

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Ryan Robertson

Anchor, Investigative Reporter

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After two months of attacks on ships in the Red Sea — attacks which included ballistic missiles and suicide drones — the United States said the U.S. Navy is going to lead an international coalition to protect shipping in the Red Sea from the Houthis responsible for the attacks. U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced the formation of Operation Prosperity Guardian while traveling through the Middle East.

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Iranian-backed Houthi militants started attacking the Red Sea trade route on Oct. 7 in solidarity with the Hamas terrorists fighting against Israel in Gaza. The Red Sea trade route carries more than 10% of global trade, and Austin said every nation has the right to roam freely and lawfully in international waters.

“But that foundational global right is under new threat today from the totally unacceptable attacks on merchant vessels by the Houthis in Yemen,” Austin said Tuesday, Dec. 19, while speaking in Bahrain.

Aside from the U.S., the countries involved with OPG include Canada, the U.K., France, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway and Spain.

Bahrain — home to the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet — is the only real regional partner. The sprawling island nation of Seychelles will also take part in the operation. Notable absences include Egypt, India and NATO allies Turkey and Greece.

The lack of Middle East partners in Operation Prosperity Guardian may be concerning, but it shouldn’t be surprising. Many countries in the area don’t want to be seen as siding with Israel over Iran in the Gaza war. The Times of Israel reported some nations are secretly participating in the coalition based on this reasoning.

However many countries eventually sign on to Prosperity Guardian, either publicly or privately, the coalition will operate under the existing Combined Task Force 153 — also based in Bahrain.

CTF 153 is already tasked with Red Sea security and has been commanded by both U.S. and Egyptian naval forces. Austin did not mention why Egypt would be a part of CTF 153 but not Operation Prosperity Guardians. Nor did Austin lay out the roles each member nation would play in the coalition; like which ships each nation is sending.

The United States already had a wealth of assets in the region. There were three guided missile destroyers: the USS Carney, USS Mason and USS Thomas Hudner.

The British and French also had naval vessels in the Red Sea, and all of these ships took part in intercepting guided missiles and Shahed suicide drones launched from Yemen. The U.K. and France said their ships came under direct attack. The U.S. said the Houthis were just targeting merchant ships, and the Navy vessels only intercepted the threats and did not target the Houthis directly.

For their part, the Houthis said as long as the war in Gaza is ongoing, any ship in the Red Sea is worthy of confrontation.

The tension over its ships being targeted was enough to make British Petroleum and around 10 other major international shipping conglomerates seek alternative routes to the Red Sea; namely sailing around Africa instead of transiting the Suez Canal.

While the exact details over Operation Prosperity Guardian continue to be ironed out, the U.S. Navy did move the USS Eisenhower aircraft carrier, along with its substantial strike group, to the Gulf of Aden off Yemen’s southern coast. Just for good measure, another guided missile destroyer, the USS Laboon, entered the Red Sea around the same time.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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[RYAN ROBERTSON]

AFTER TWO MONTHS OF ATTACKS ON SHIPS IN THE RED SEA, ATTACKS WHICH INCLUDED BALLISTIC MISSILES AND SUICIDE DRONES, THE UNITED STATES SAYS IT’S GOING TO LEAD AN INTERNATIONAL COALITION TO PROTECT SHIPPING FROM THE HOUTHI REBELS RESPONSIBLE FOR THE ATTACKS.

U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY LLOYD AUSTIN ANNOUNCED THE FORMATION OF OPERATION PROSPERITY GUARDIAN WHILE TRAVELING THROUGH THE MIDDLE EAST. IRANIAN-BACKED HOUTHI REBELS STARTED ATTACKING THE RED SEA TRADE ROUTE ON OCT. 7 IN SOLIDARITY WITH THE HAMAS TERRORISTS FIGHTING AGAINST ISRAEL IN GAZA. THE RED SEA TRADE ROUTE CARRIES MORE THAN 10% OF GLOBAL TRADE, AND SECRETARY AUSTIN SAYS EVERY NATION HAS THE RIGHT TO ROAM FREELY AND LAWFULLY IN INTERNATIONAL WATERS.

[Lloyd Austin]

But that foundational global right is under new threat today from the totally unacceptable attacks on merchant vessels by the Houthis in Yemen.

[RYAN ROBERTSON]

ASIDE FROM THE U.S., THE COUNTRIES WHO ARE ALSO DOWN WITH OPG INCLUDE CANADA, THE UK, FRANCE, ITALY, THE NETHERLANDS, NORWAY AND SPAIN. BAHRAIN, HOME TO THE US NAVY’S 5TH FLEET IS THE ONLY REAL REGIONAL PARTNER, AND THE SPRAWLING ISLAND NATION OF SEYCHELLES WILL ALSO TAKE PART IN THE OPERATION.

NOTABLE ABSENCES INCLUDE EGYPT AND INDIA, AS WELL AS NATO ALLIES TURKEY AND GREECE.

THE LACK OF MIDDLE EAST PARTNERS IN OPERATION PROSPERITY GUARDIANS MAY BE CONCERNING, BUT IT SHOULDN’T BE SURPRISING. MANY COUNTRIES IN THE AREA DON’T WANT TO BE SEEN AS SIDING WITH ISRAEL OVER IRAN IN THE GAZA WAR. THE TIMES OF ISRAEL REPORTS SOME NATIONS ARE SECRETLY PARTICIPATING IN THE COALITION BASED ON THIS REASONING.

HOWEVER MANY COUNTRIES EITHER PUBLICLY OR PRIVATELY SIGN ON TO PROSPERITY GUARDIANS, THE COALITION WILL OPERATE UNDER THE EXISTING COMBINED TASK FORCE 153, BASED IN BAHRAIN. CTF 153 IS ALREADY TASKED WITH RED SEA SECURITY AND HAS BEEN COMMANDED BY BOTH U.S. AND EGYPTIAN NAVAL FORCES. SECRETARY AUSTIN DIDN’T MENTION WHY EGYPT WOULD BE A PART OF CTF 153 BUT NOT OPERATION PROSPERITY GUARDIANS. NOR DID AUSTIN LAY OUT THE ROLES EACH MEMBER NATION WOULD PLAY IN THE COALITION; LIKE WHICH SHIPS EACH NATION IS SENDING.

THE UNITED STATES ALREADY HAD A WEALTH OF ASSETS IN THE REGION. THERE WERE THREE GUIDED MISSILE DESTROYERS –THE USS CARNEY, USS MASON, AND USS THOMAS HUDNER. THE BRITISH AND FRENCH ALSO HAD NAVAL VESSELS IN THE RED SEA, AND ALL OF THESE SHIPS TOOK PART IN INTERCEPTING GUIDED MISSILES AND SHAHED SUICIDE DRONES LAUNCHED FROM YEMEN. THE UK AND FRANCE SAID THEIR SHIPS CAME UNDER DIRECT ATTACK. THE U.S. SAID THE HOUTHIS WERE JUST TARGETING MERCHANT SHIPS, AND THE NAVY VESSELS ONLY INTERCEPTED THE THREATS, AND DID NOT TARGET THE HOUTHIS DIRECTLY.

FOR THEIR PART, THE HOUTHIS SAY AS LONG AS THE WAR IN GAZA IS ONGOING, ANY SHIP IN THE RED SEA IS WORTHY OF CONFRONTATION.

THE TENSION OVER ITS SHIPS BEING TARGETED WAS ENOUGH TO MAKE BRITISH PETROLEUM AND AROUND 10 OTHER MAJOR INTERNATIONAL SHIPPING CONGLOMERATES SEEK ALTERNATIVE ROUTES TO THE RED SEA; NAMELY SAILING AROUND AFRICA INSTEAD OF TRANSITING THE SUEZ CANAL.

WHILE THE EXACT DETAILS OVER OPERATION PROSPERITY GUARDIAN CONTINUE TO BE IRONED OUT, THE U.S. NAVY DID MOVE THE USS EISENHOWER AIRCRAFT CARRIER, ALONG WITH ITS SUBSTANTIAL STRIKE GROUP, TO THE GULF OF ADEN OFF YEMEN’S SOUTHERN COAST. AND JUST FOR GOOD MEASURE, ANOTHER GUIDED MISSILE DESTROYER, THE USS LABOON, ENTERED THE RED SEA AROUND THE SAME TIME.