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The U.S. and U.K. launched strikes in Houthi-controlled territories of Yemen

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

The United States with help from Britain a few hours ago unleashed a series of airstrikes on the Houthis, the main military force in Yemen, a force backed by Iran.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

President Biden says he ordered the strikes because of what he called unprecedented and reckless attacks by the Houthis on commercial ships in the Red Sea.

FADEL: The president says his aim is to put an end to those attacks, but the Houthis are vowing to do exactly the opposite and step up the assaults. For more, we're joined by NPR national security correspondent Greg Myre. Hi, Greg.

GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Good morning, Leila.

FADEL: Good morning. So what do we know at this point about these strikes?

MYRE: So the U.S. carried out these strikes from ships, from planes and included a submarine as well. As you noted, Britain took part, with airstrikes of its own. More than a dozen sites were targeted in the western part of Yemen. And these are places where the Houthis have been firing missiles and drones at more than two dozen commercial ships in the Red Sea since November. The U.S. Navy's protecting these ships. It's been shooting down the incoming Houthi weapons and repeatedly warning the Houthis to knock it off. And for President Biden, it appears the final straw came on Tuesday, when the Houthis launched more than 20 drones and missiles, including some directed at a U.S. commercial ship with a U.S. Navy ship nearby.

FADEL: So you mentioned there that it's more than a dozen strikes carried out by the U.S. and the U.K. Were they effective? Will they deter the Houthis from carrying out more strikes?

MYRE: Yeah, we really don't know those kinds of details yet. The strikes took place overnight in Yemen. The U.S. military is likely to get a much better picture today in daylight. The U.S. Navy has been watching closely for two months, so they should have a pretty good idea about the places the Houthis were using to launch these attacks. But even if the U.S. and British strikes were on target and did inflict damage, the Houthis are believed to have more weapons. And the Houthis today are vowing to carry out more attacks, and they say they're doing this in solidarity with the Palestinians.

FADEL: I mean, this is a region already on fire - the war in Gaza, there have been U.S. strikes in Syria and Iraq against Iranian-backed militias following attacks by them, the Houthis attacking in the Red Sea. I mean, what's the risk here of real escalation?

MYRE: Yeah, that's very real, Leila. More countries could be drawn into the fighting. President Biden has been very aware of this since the Israel-Hamas fighting began three months ago, saying repeatedly he doesn't want this war to become a wider regional conflict. But Biden is now saying he can't allow international commercial shipping to be disrupted in this way. The Red Sea is a major shipping lane connecting Europe, the Middle East and Asia, and ships are having to take this much longer and more expensive route around the southern tip of Africa. So Biden is trying to get the Houthis to back down without igniting this larger regional conflict. And it's a real gamble. It's a real risk.

FADEL: Now, Greg, before I let you go, I mean, we have to talk about Iran's role in all this. I mean, what is Iran's role here?

MYRE: Yeah, a senior U.S. official describes Iran as the primary enabler of the Houthis, saying Iran provides the weapons, providing intelligence on the ships. And we should also note Iran is the main backer of Hamas, arming that group for years in Gaza. It's the main patron of Hezbollah in Lebanon. So Iran is condemning these U.S. and British strikes, and we'll be watching closely to see what sort of signals Iran sends about all this turmoil.

FADEL: NPR's Greg Myre. Thanks for your reporting, Greg.

MYRE: Sure thing, Leila. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
Greg Myre is a national security correspondent with a focus on the intelligence community, a position that follows his many years as a foreign correspondent covering conflicts around the globe.