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U.S., Canada to join multi-national operation to counter attacks on commercial ships in Red Sea

The United States, Canada and a host of other nations are creating a new force to protect ships transiting the Red Sea that have come under attack by drones and ballistic missiles fired from Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen, U.S. Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin announced early Tuesday in Bahrain.

The seriousness of the attacks, several of which have damaged the vessels, has led multiple shipping companies to order their ships to hold in place and not enter the Bab el-Mandeb Strait until the security situation can be addressed.

“This is an international challenge that demands collective action,” Austin said in statement released just after midnight in Bahrain.

“Therefore today I am announcing the establishment of Operation Prosperity Guardian, an important new multinational security initiative.”

The United Kingdom, Bahrain, Canada, France, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Seychelles and Spain will join the U.S. in the new mission, Austin announced. Some of the countries will conduct joint patrols while others provide intelligence support in the southern Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden.

WATCH | Houthi militias attacking ships in the Red Sea:

Houthi militias attacking ships in the Red Sea

Yemen’s Houthi militias have been attacking commercial ships in the Red Sea, claiming they’re acting in solidarity with Palestinians and that all of the targets have some connection to Israel. Now, the U.S. is calling for a coalition to protect vessels.

Canada won’t deploy any ships but will send “a handful of personnel to the international task force,” a government source told CBC News.

The mission will be co-ordinated by the already existing Combined Task Force 153, which was set up in April 2022 to improve maritime security in the Red Sea, Bab el-Mandeb and the Gulf of Aden. There have been 39 member nations in CTF 153, but officials were working to determine which of them would participate in this latest effort.

Three U.S. warships — the USS Carney, the USS Stethem and the USS Mason, all Navy destroyers — have been moving through the Bab el-Mandeb Strait daily to help deter and respond to attacks from the Houthis.

The move to set up the expanded operation came after three commercial vessels were struck by missiles fired by Iranian-back Houthis in Yemen on Dec. 3. Those attacks were part of an escalating campaign of violence that also included armed and other drones launched in the direction of U.S. warships.

To date the U.S. has not struck back at the Iranian-back Houthis operating in Yemen or targeted any of the militants’ weapons or other sites. Austin did not answer a question on Monday as to why the Pentagon had not conducted a counterstrike.

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