US announces international task force to protect ships in Red Sea from Houthi strikes

"This is an international challenge," Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said.

December 18, 2023, 5:38 PM

AMMAN, Jordan -- The Pentagon on Monday announced the establishment of a multinational naval task force to protect commercial ships from Houthi missile and drone attacks in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, which have escalated in the wake of the Israel-Hamas war.

The task force will be known as "Operation Prosperity Guardian" and will build upon an existing counterpiracy mission in the region known as Task Force 153, officials said.

Participating countries in the new effort include the United States, the U.K., Bahrain, Canada, France, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Seychelles and Spain, each of whom will contribute ships and other resources.

"This is an international challenge that demands collective action," Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a statement announcing the new operation.

In recent weeks, Houthi militants in Yemen are believed to have carried out nearly a dozen attacks on commercial shipping, including companies the Houthis claim are linked to Israel, in response to Israel's military campaign against Hamas in Gaza after Hamas' Oct. 7 terror attack.

The strikes have increased concern that the war could spur a wider conflict in the Middle East, and U.S. officials have said the Houthis imperil a vital shipping lane.

PHOTO: The U.S. Navy destroyer USS Carney sets sail in the Bosphorus in Istanbul, Turkey, July 14, 2019.
The U.S. Navy destroyer USS Carney sets sail in the Bosphorus in Istanbul, Turkey, July 14, 2019.
Yoruk Isik/Reuters, FILE

As a safety precaution, several international shipping companies have said that their ships have been told not to enter the Bab al-Mandeb Strait that separates the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden.

"Countries that seek to uphold the foundational principle of freedom of navigation must come together," Austin said on Monday, in part.

The U.S. recently imposed new sanctions on people who are financially supporting the Houthis, with the White House laying blame with Iran for providing key weapons to the group.

During a visit to Israel on Monday, Austin previewed the creation of the task force and reaffirmed comments by senior U.S. officials that the increasing number of Houthi attacks on commercial ships in the Red Sea was an international problem that required an international solution.

"These attacks are reckless, dangerous, and they violate international law and so we're taking action to build an international coalition to address this threat, he said during a press conference in Tel Aviv.