Home / Robert Farley / Houthi What?

Houthi What?

Flickr - Official U.S. Navy Imagery - A helicopter approaches USS Nitze to land..jpg
By Official Navy Page from United States of America MC3 Alex R. Forster/U.S. Navy – A helicopter approaches USS Nitze to land., Public Domain,

For those not really paying attention, this morning the destroyer USS Nitze hit three coastal radar installations in Houthi-controlled portions of Yemen. The strikes were in response to land-based cruise missile attacks against USS Mason, another USN destroyer operating in the area. The Mason came under attack on Sunday, and again yesterday, from two missile salvos (believed to be C-802s), and defended itself with SM-2 Standard and ESSM Evolved Sea Sparrow surface-to-air missiles.  At this point it remains unclear whether the counter-measures were effective, or whether the cruise missiles simply crashed into the sea of their own accord.

Word is that the initial Houthi attacks are meant as a response to the big Saudi strike that killed a large number of people at a funeral last week.  The Houthi may have gotten the missiles from Iran, although other suppliers are possible.  The strikes on the coastal radar installations are intended to blind the missile launchers; without radar to identify targets, sending off a cruise missile is a pretty hopeless endeavor.

Escalation?  Sure, but fairly measured at this point.  The US attacks aren’t intended to send a “message,” but rather to cut out a critical part of the recon-strike complex. If the Houthi continue to launch such attacks on US or neutral shipping, or if they undertake other kinds of attacks (the small boat swarm that took out the former HSV-2) then the USN might pursue less limited options.

The broader context is ongoing US support for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen, which is predicated almost entirely upon the need to not make the Saudis feel sad and lonely after the Iran nuclear deal. I can understand the strategic logic of this support, but there really should be limits to how many people we’ll let the Saudis kill just so that they continue to feel loved.

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  • GeorgeBurnsWasRight

    FWIW, some administration spokesperson did state that the US may stop aiding Saudi Arabia in their military mission if the Saudis don’t stop apparently targeting civilians.

    I of course have no idea what they’re telling the Saudis privately. Now that’s something Wikileaks could be appropriate for, rather than their releasing unsurprising insider details about Clinton’s campaign.

    • Arouet

      Didn’t we resolve this with the State cable leaks? By and large, what American diplomats tell their interlocutors in private these days is very similar to what we say in public.

      I have no doubt the same message has been communicated to the Saudis quietly, and that they were up a wall about it being made public. Made me wonder whether this could be a false-flag thing at first, but I don’t think even the Saudis are that stupid.

  • Warren Terra

    The Houthi may have gotten the missiles from Iran, although other suppliers are possible.

    Is it certain that the missiles were newly acquired, rather than having been property of the Yemeni government before the war?

  • One of the most frustrating things about our hopelessly shallow campaigns is that I really have no idea where Clinton stands on this stuff. Her history and general support for Obama’s foreign policy is all we have to go on.

    Does she think we should cut the Saudis off from the bomb and fuel supply that lets them have their little war? What’s her opinion of the new Saudi regime? I have no idea because every time the Middle East comes up in the campaign or a debate, it’s about who’s gonna be toughest on ISIS, whatever that means. A search for “Yemen” on her website yields nothing but talk about how evil Iran is supporting “bad actors”.

    • Warren Terra

      Did you really just propose we cut off the Saudis’ fuel supply? I understand that crude oil isn’t aviation fuel, but some quick Googling suggests the Saudis do have some refinery capacity to make the stuff.

      • Arouet

        That is logically read as cut of their aerial refueling supply, which along with intel has been our primary contribution to the campaign. They have refueling aircraft of their own, but not nearly as many as we can provide.

        • Yeah, I meant letting them refuel with our tanker planes, should’ve worded that better. I don’t know anything about the Saudi’s aviation refining capabilities, though extended operations like this would draw down even a hefty reserve very quickly.

          And the mid-air refueling is critical here. Yemen may be next door, but the Arabian peninsula is really big, and F-15s don’t actually have that long a combat range. Sure, you can load them up with drop tanks, but that’s less space for bombs.

          I don’t know the exact numbers, obviously, but if we withdrew that support, I’d bet their strike capacity would drop by half or more overnight. Course, then they’d be spending less on bombs, and we can’t have that…

          • Arouet

            Good points all. Plus, their air bases nearest the border have been coming under fire from Yemeni ballistic missiles – which have been surprisingly competently handled, in my view.

        • BiloSagdiyev

          Well, if we cut them off it could at least force them to buy some KC-135’s from us, which would create jobs in Murka. (Military spending, the only Keynesian spending we’re allowed to talk about anymore.)

          (Consults wikipedia)

          OK, so we haven’t built a new KC-135 since 19…65… So, they can get in line for the coming Boeing KC-46.

          Oh wait, like so many things where we get involved with war toys and empire, we’d rather they beg us to use our tankers than they have their own and use them in some future war on Israel.

          Some war toys but not all the war toys.

          • Arouet

            Sadly if we cut them off they’d probably just turn to Airbus for more MRTTs, as they already have with their latest purchase.

            Also the Israeli Air Force would make mince-meat of the Saudis no matter how many tankers they have.

            • BiloSagdiyev

              My apocalyptic imagination is more fevered than yours. ; )

  • “Yemeni Civil War” doesn’t really capture the complexity of the situation. I only read the wikipedia article, I don’t pretend to have any grasp of the subtleties and histories of the armed groups involved, but there’s quite a few armed groups, fighting in at least 3 coalitions and each side is getting some level of foreign support. Given that situation, how is supporting any side in that struggle going to avoid creating another batch of violent troublemakers, like our support of the mujaheddin in Afghanistan led to Al Qaeda?

    • Arouet

      It’s not. Nor is supporting no side, probably (not least because that leaves AQAP a pretty definite winner in being ignored). Supporting the Saudis is a strategic calculation aimed – as Farley said – at soothing ruffled Saudi jimmies after the nuclear deal and maintaining our access/ability to go after AQAP, which is the only force involved that we really care about for our own national interests.

      AQAP is nasty as hell.

      • andrew97

        If you want to talk about the realpolitik, Saudi is the regional power, so helping them has the best chance of creating a long-lasting, least-awful outcome. (It helps that they are, sort of, American allies.)

        For the same reason (except for the sort-of American ally part), the US should probably back out of Syria and let the Russians take over, which will at least put an end to the war. Even if it means that bloodthirsty asshole Assad stays in power. Even if the Russians are going to commit war crimes to get what they want. And even if it means hosing moderate opposition groups, such as they are. Anyway, if we wanted to do something there it should have been years ago.

      • Ghostship

        Since the Saudi invasion of Yemen, AQAP has expanded its area of operation as the Houthis have been distracted. You want people to hunt down and kill AQAP, then the Houthis are the people to employ. As Shia they’re opposed to the spread of Saudi-backed Wahhabism. A case can be made the one of the reasons that Saudi Arabia intervened in Yemen was to prevent AQAP being liquidated.
        As for the attack on the USN ship, the Houthis strenuously deny it. And what evidence has anybody actually seen that any missiles were even launched at the USS Mason? The USN has a history of lying, Gulf of Tonkin, USS Vincennes/Iran Air Flight 655, etc., so who is to say they aren’t lying now. My best guess for FWIW is that the USN felt the sting of an ex-USN-flagged ship (HSV-2 Swift) being blown up but not sunk and wanted an excuse to take revenge on the Houthis and also help out their friends in the RSN who so far appear to have lost twelve warships to the Yemenis. Without the convenient story of an attack on a USN-ship , it would have looked like an act of aggression.
        Added to which the attack on the HSV-2 Swift probably killed off the Littoral Combat Ship program and I’m sure there are people in the USN who don’t like that.

        • Arouet

          Yes, if supporting the Houthis was politically viable at the start of this, that would have been the way to go in a vacuum. But we don’t live in a vacuum, and the day Obama announces he’s going to support a purported Iranian proxy against the Saudis is the day the House brings articles of impeachment.

          As for the idea that the USN made this up…. that’s fucking ridiculous, and possibly even illegal. This is not the Cold War. Obama isn’t going to green light that, and no long chain of USN officers is going to risk their career on a blatantly illegal and easily discoverable act of subversion.

  • witlesschum

    The broader context is ongoing US support for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen, which is predicated almost entirely upon the need to not make the Saudis feel sad and lonely after the Iran nuclear deal. I can understand the strategic logic of this support, but there really should be limits to how many people we’ll let the Saudis kill just so that they continue to feel loved.

    Yeah, this is exactly the sort of war where we’re not going to gain anything but enemies by participating and seems very unlikely to actually accomplish anything worth having.

    If our war aims really are “make the Saudis feel like we still support them” I don’t see that as even worth having at this point. There oil is becoming less important with the fracking boom and we’ve stopped with the myopic “oppose Iran because that’s why” stuff, so what do we get that’s worth the disrepute of being so closely associated with that regime?

    • BiloSagdiyev

      I also see us helping Saudi Arabia create big piles of corpses that we will also take the blame for in the eyes of many in the part of the world where they’re less than enthused about us already.

  • sean_p

    With respect to the tactical aspects of this: Nulka was also deployed in both engagements, and while this hasn’t been reported, no doubt onboard ECM was in play as well. I think there’s a significant likelihood that the SACCADEs involved hit the water as a result of an ECM soft kill – they just missed the ship due to jamming and eventually crashed.

  • mramsey

    No one seems to be asking the obvious questions, so I will. What happens if a lucky shot (or a clever tactic) results in severe damage or sinking of one of the USN ships with loss of life? I assume the US will start by engaging in yet another round of ritual bloodletting aimed at Houthi-controlled areas, but will it stop at that? Do the Saudis want us to be full-fledged participant in the Yemeni conflict? How about AQAP?

    • BiloSagdiyev

      Oh, that’s simple. We’ll invade the Crimea!

  • wengler

    The war against the Houthis and for Saudi Arabia/al Qaeda reminds us that the US government can whine about the Russian government and Assad blowing up civilians one day while shipping arms and materiel for Saudi Arabia/al Qaeda to blow up civilians the next day.

    • BiloSagdiyev

      I believe the word for that is “statesmanship.”

  • LFC

    from the OP:
    there really should be limits to how many people we’ll let the Saudis kill just so that they continue to feel loved.

    and those limits should have been reached quite a while ago

    • BiloSagdiyev

      Yes. And I’m going to keep calling that body of water over there the Persian Gulf, and I don’t care who likes it or doesn’t like it.


      (I was a federal employee when in the late 90’s, we were told to stop using the word “Persian” in front of Gulf War. It was dumb. And the dumbth rolls on, I hear.)

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