ABC News Exclusive: Joint Chiefs chairman says US goal in Red Sea is to deter Iran-backed Houthis

"We don't want to go down a path of greater escalation," Gen. CQ Brown said.

January 26, 2024, 7:50 PM

The U.S.-led retaliatory strikes launched against Iranian-backed Houthi militants in the Red Sea are intended to prevent future conflict, and the U.S. does not want to "go down a path of greater escalation," Gen. CQ Brown, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told ABC News Chief Global Affairs Correspondent Martha Raddatz in an exclusive interview.

Brown spoke with Raddatz as the Houthis stepped up their attacks Friday off the shores of Yemen, launching anti-ship ballistic missiles in two separate attacks. One missile hit a British-operated oil tanker in the Gulf of Aden, setting it on fire.

The other missile was shot down by the U.S. Navy destroyer the USS Carney without causing damage.

You can see more of Martha Raddatz' exclusive interview with Joint Chiefs Chairman CQ Brown Sunday on ABC's "This Week."

ABC News' Martha Raddatz interviews Gen. CQ Brown, Jr., the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
ABC News

Raddatz's exclusive interview with Brown will air Sunday on ABC's "This Week."

Raddatz asked Brown about suggestions by critics that the Biden administration isn't being tough enough on these militants -- or on Iran, which the U.S. accuses of financing the attacks.

Brown, who as chairman is President Joe Biden's top military adviser, responded: "I would also ask, what do they want? A broader conflict? Do you want us on a full-scale war?"

Brown said the goal is deterrence, while protecting U.S. forces.

Houthi fighters and tribesmen stage a rally against the U.S. and the U.K. strikes on Houthi-run military sites near Sanaa, Yemen, Jan. 14, 2024.

"We've got to be thoughtful about our approach in these areas, and we can't predict exactly how any one of these groups is going to respond," he said. "And so we've got to make sure we look at the key partner force protection, but also the ability to take away their capability."

"And we don't want to go down a path of greater escalation that drives to a much broader conflict within the region," he said.

The Houthis insist the more than 30 attacks in the Red Sea since last fall are retaliation for U.S. and British support of Israel's war against Hamas.

In the case of the British-operated oil tanker, the ship was damaged and the crew was forced to abandon ship. U.S. officials said the crew was able to make it aboard a lifeboat, while the USS Carney and a French warship were en route to provide assistance.

Some lawmakers, including Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Mike Johnson, have welcomed the U.S.-led strikes, calling them necessary but overdue.

"The United States and our allies must leave no room to doubt that the days of unanswered terrorist aggression are over," McConnell said.

But other lawmakers have insisted that Congress be consulted first. In a letter to Biden on Friday, a bipartisan group of 22 House lawmakers called the strikes "unauthorized." A group of bipartisan senators, including Sens. Tim Kaine, D-Va., and Todd Young, R-Ind., wrote a similar letter earlier this week.

The Pentagon has called the strikes self-defense, which would not require pre-authorization from Congress.

"We urge your Administration to seek authorization from Congress before involving the U.S. in another conflict in the Middle East, potentially provoking Iran-backed militias that may threaten U.S. military service members already in the region, and risking escalation of a wider regional war," the House lawmakers wrote.