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Secretary of the Navy commends Hampton Roads-based sailors responding to aggression in Red Sea

Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro speaks on stage during a change of command ceremony where Douglas Perry was promoted to vice admiral aboard the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman at Naval Station Norfolk on Jan. 12, 2024. (Billy Schuerman / The Virginian-Pilot/TNS)

As tensions in the Middle East rise, Hampton Roads-based warships are playing a critical role in responding to attacks on military and commercial ships.

“We gave them hell last night,” Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro said during a change of command ceremony held Friday at Naval Station Norfolk. “I knew what was coming and I am extremely proud of our fleet.”

Early Thursday, U.S. Central Command forces, in coordination with the United Kingdom and support from Australia, Canada, the Netherlands and Bahrain, reported conducting joint strikes on Houthi targets. The Houthis are an Iranian-backed militant group that began launching attacks on U.S. and international ships amid ongoing conflict between Hamas, deemed a terrorist organization by the U.S., and Israel.

The U.S. and United Kingdom’s Thursday action against the Houthis targeted radar systems, air defense systems and storage and launch sites, according to U.S. Central Command.

Just days before, on Tuesday, U.S. officials said the Houthis launched one-way aerial attack drones, anti-ship cruise missiles and an anti-ship ballistic missile from Yemen into the Southern Red Sea toward international shipping lanes where dozens of merchant vessels were transiting.

The U.S. and the United Kingdom shot down 18 drones, two anti-ship cruise missiles and one anti-ship ballistic missile, officials said. The firepower was brought by F/A-18 Super Hornets from USS Dwight D. Eisenhower and destroyers USS Gravely, USS Laboon, USS Mason and the United Kingdom’s HMS Diamond.

The USS Dwight D. Eisenhower deployed from Naval Station Norfolk to the Mediterranean in mid-October. Within 12 hours of pushing off the pier, it was ordered to sail to the Middle East in response to what Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said were “escalations by Iran and its proxy forces.” Norfolk-based destroyers USS Gravely and USS Laboon, along with the USS Mason out of Mayport, deployed with the Eisenhower as part of its strike group.

The U.S. Central Command shared news of the coordinated response to its social media platforms and included a video of a fighter jet taking off from the Eisenhower.

The Houthis have attempted to attack 27 ships in international shipping lanes in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden since Nov. 19, U.S. defense officials said. Gen. Michael Erik Kurilla, commander of U.S. Central Command, said 55 nations have been affected so far by the attacks on international shipping.

“This kind of conduct just cannot continue. It is a violation of international law. It is a threat, obviously, to our fleet and the fleets of our allies and partners,” Del Toro said. “And it is having a dramatic impact, obviously, on the free flow of trade, which negatively impacts economies of all nations.”

The Eisenhower strike group is operating in the Red Sea and nearby Gulf of Aden, establishing a force presence to deter other forces from taking advantage of the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas. The strike group could transit closer to Israel by way of the Suez Canal, an Egyptian waterway that connects the Red Sea to the eastern Mediterranean.

Also working to deter further aggression are elements of the Hampton Roads-based USS Bataan amphibious group and a force of 2,500 Marines. Assault ship USS Bataan and transport dock USS Mesa Verde, both homeported at Naval Station Norfolk, and dock landing ship USS Carter Hall, homeported at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story, are operating in the Eastern Mediterranean.

The USS Gerald R. Ford carrier strike group was operating in the Eastern Mediterranean but has since began the journey back to Norfolk following a thrice-extended deployment.

The Ford is due back to Norfolk next week.


© 2024 The Virginian-Pilot

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