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“Houthis Vow to Ignite Conflict: US-Led Task Force Fails to End Attacks in Red Sea

The announcement made by the Houthis, a militia group in Yemen, that they will continue their attacks on ships in the Red Sea has raised alarm in the shipping industry and international community. The group, which has been fighting a civil war in Yemen since 2015, has been accused of multiple hijackings, pirate attacks, and bombings in the region, including against vessels belonging to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. This threat has grown in urgency since the United States announced the formation of a task force to combat threats in the region, including the Houthis. The US-led Maritime Security Initiative, which consists of a coalition of countries, was established in 2019 in response to the rise in maritime criminal activities in the Red Sea, Gulf of Aden, and the Gulf of Oman. While the Houthis have not yet officially responded to the initiative, they recently indicated that they plan to continue their assaults on ships passing through their maritime territory. The Houthis feel that the ongoing conflict has rendered them unable to participate in maritime navigation agreements and that this has led to unfair limitations on Yemeni navigation. They also claim that the US-led task force has put undue pressure on them to cooperate. However, the UK-backed Initiative and other international organisations have repeatedly urged the Houthis to abide by international law and refrain from attacking ships in the Red Sea. For their part, the US has also deployed numerous security and naval vessels to the region to protect commercial navigation and has provided diplomatic and financial support to the Houthis to help them build up their own security forces. The US-led forces have routinely conducted patrols to protect commercial vessels from potential Houthi attacks, but the militia group insists that they must be allowed to exercise their right to confront those ships they deem as having infringed upon their international regulations. The Houthis’ vow to keep attacking ships in the Red Sea, especially those belonging to countries in the coalition, is a serious cause for concern. It is not only a security measure, but it also further undermines the efforts of the international community to establish a safe environment in the region and safeguard civilian lives. The US and other members of the Initiative have urged the Houthis to choose dialogue and negotiation instead of violence, and to commit to legal navigation regulations. Until then, the safety of those ships in the Red Sea will remain at risk.