US hints at hitting Iranian-backed Houthis with increased intensity after Jordan attack

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Following the drone attack on a base in Jordan, the US forces are now preparing to hit Iran-backed proxies across the Middle East with increased intensity, as reported by Voice of America (VOA). US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin called the attack against sleeping quarters at Tower 22 in northeastern Jordan “egregious,” adding such actions will not be tolerated. The drone attack marks the first instance of US troops being killed by enemy fire in the Middle East since the commencement of the Gaza war.

The attack targeted Tower 22 in Jordan, near the Syrian border, escalating an already precarious situation in the region and killing three US soldiers and injuring more than 40 others. According to US officials, the drone responsible was launched by Iran-backed militants and seemed to originate from Syria, according to CNN. “It’s time to take away even more capability than we’ve taken in the past,” Austin said on Thursday when asked why the United States has waited to respond more strongly to the more than 165 attacks on US forces in the Middle East dating to mid-October of last year.

The US defence secretary also seemed to dismiss a statement issued by Kataib Hezbollah, an Iran-backed militia in Iraq, that it was suspending military operations against the US, VOA reported. “We always listen to what people are saying, but we watch what they do,” he said. “Actions are everything.” Austin further suggested that, following the deadly attack in Jordan, such gestures are too little, too late.

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“We look to hold the people that are responsible for this accountable,” he said. “And we also look to make sure that we continue to take away capability from them as we go forward.” Moreover, he emphasised that the US is moving forward with a “multi-tiered response” likely to include multiple military strikes. Meanwhile, on Thursday, US President Joe Biden approved plans for several days of strikes on targets that include “Iranian personnel and facilities” in both Iraq and Syria,” as reported by CBS News.

Apart from the exception of a strike on January 4 in Baghdad that killed the leader of the Iran-backed Harakat-al-Nujaba militia, the previous US responses have strictly focused on hitting sites and storage facilities instead of militia personnel, according to VOA.

However, some of the critics have raised concerns that Washington’s willingness to talk about a military response has given the Iran-backed militias time to prepare. But Austin said he was not concerned with reports that some of the militias have been evacuating bases and training facilities. “In terms of telegraphing about strikes and whether or not people leave or what is left, I won’t speculate,” he said.

“They have a lot of capability. I have a lot more,” he added. “We’re going to do what’s necessary to protect our troops and our interests.” The defence chief also acknowledged that there has been no end to attacks on international shipping in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden by Iran-backed Houthi militants in Yemen, despite several warnings and a series of strikes on Houthi facilities and missile launch locations, as reported by VOA.

“The Houthis continue to do some things that are very irresponsible and illegal. So, our goal is to make sure that we continue to take away capability from the Houthis to do what they’ve been doing,” he said. “We would call upon Iran to quit or to cease supplying the Houthis with these advanced conventional weapons that they’ve used to attack ships,” he said, calling it an issue of international concern.

Reportedly, the Houthis have launched nearly 40 attacks on international shipping since mid-November, including a flurry of attacks and attempted attacks on Thursday. US Central Command, which oversees US forces in the Middle East, said that it started with the shoot-down of a drone in the early morning hours, Yemen time, over the Gulf of Aden, according to VOA. Several hours later, US forces in the Red Sea destroyed a Houthi naval drone packed with explosives that was headed for international shipping lanes.

“It presented an imminent threat to merchant vessels and US Navy ships in the region,” US Central Command, known as CENTCOM, said in a statement. Moreover, hours after the naval drone was eliminated, CENTCOM highlighted that the Houthis fired two anti-ship ballistic missiles in the general direction of the M/V Koi, a Bermuda-owned cargo ship, VOA reported. Notably, the US designated the Houthis as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist group in January.