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Pentagon unveils new Middle East task force

The Pentagon in Arlington County, Virginia. (Dreamstime/TNS)
December 19, 2023

The United States and its allies announced a multinational task force Monday that will address the issue of Houthis repeatedly launching attacks from Yemen against commercial vessels in the Red Sea.

While touring the Middle East, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin released a statement Monday explaining that the multinational task force, “Operation Prosperity Guardian,” will include nations such as Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Norway, the Netherlands, Spain, Bahrain, and Seychelles. Austin noted that Operation Prosperity Guardian will be conducted “under the umbrella” of an existing task force in the region.

“The recent escalation in reckless Houthi attacks originating from Yemen threatens the free flow of commerce, endangers innocent mariners, and violates international law,” Austin stated. “The Red Sea is a critical waterway that has been essential to freedom of navigation and a major commercial corridor that facilitates international trade.”

Emphasizing the importance of collaboration between the international community, Austin said countries committed to upholding the “foundational principle of freedom of navigation” must work together to address the “challenge” presented by a “non-state actor” repeatedly launching missiles and drone attacks against “merchant vessels from many nations lawfully transiting international waters.”

READ MORE: Iran-backed group attacks ships in Middle East

The Pentagon has reported multiple attacks against commercial vessels in recent weeks by the Houthis, which are backed by Iran, resulting in U.S. naval forces responding to the distress calls. A list compiled by Reuters shows over ten shipping companies that have either announced the suspension of shipping or are considering suspending shipping transits through the Red Sea as a result of the recent attacks by the Houthis.

“This is an international challenge that demands collective action,” Austin stated Monday. “Therefore, today I am announcing the establishment of Operation Prosperity Guardian, an important new multinational security initiative under the umbrella of the Combined Maritime Forces and the leadership of its Task Force 153, which focuses on security in the Red Sea.”

The Associated Press reported that some of the countries participating in the multinational task force will execute joint patrols throughout the Red Sea, the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, and the Gulf of Aden, while other countries will assist with intelligence support.