US, British defense chiefs discuss Middle East threats

US and British forces have launched joint strikes aimed at reducing the Houthis’ ability to target vessels transiting the key Red Sea trade route…reports Asian Lite News

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin met with his British counterpart Grant Shapps at the Pentagon Wednesday for talks on security threats in the Middle East, the Pentagon said.

They discussed issues including “the escalating attacks by Iran-aligned militia groups on US troops in the Middle East” and “the illegal Houthi attacks on international shipping in the Red Sea,” as well as humanitarian assistance for Gaza and support for Ukraine, Pentagon spokesman Major General Pat Ryder said in a statement.

“Secretary Austin thanked Secretary Shapps for the United Kingdom’s steadfast support and leadership in coalition efforts to stave off further Houthi aggression, while defending naval and international commercial vessels exercising navigational rights and freedoms,” Ryder said, referring to attacks on shipping by the Iran-backed Yemeni rebels.

US and British forces have launched joint strikes aimed at reducing the Houthis’ ability to target vessels transiting the key Red Sea trade route — attacks the rebels say are in support of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, where Israel is at war with Hamas.

US and allied forces in Iraq, Syria and Jordan have been attacked more than 165 times since mid-October, many of them claimed by a loose alliance of Iran-linked armed groups that opposes American support for Israel in the Gaza conflict and the presence of Washington’s troops in the region.

On Sunday, a drone struck a military base in northeastern Jordan, killing three US soldiers and wounding more than 40 — the first American military deaths in an attack in the Middle East since the start of the Israel-Hamas war in early October.

Washington blamed Iran-backed militants for the attack, vowing a decisive response.

Earlier, US and UK imposed sanctions on a network of people who targeted Iranian opposition activists for assassination under Iran’s orders, the US Treasury Department had said.

The US Treasury said the network was directed by Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security and put sanctions on 11 people connected to it, including Iranian narcotics trafficker Naji Ibrahim Sharifi-Zindashti.

“The Iranian regime’s continued efforts to target dissidents and activists demonstrate the regime’s deep insecurity and attempt to expand Iran’s domestic repression internationally,” said Brian Nelson, Treasury’s undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence. There was no immediate comment from Iran.

The Treasury said that the network, led by Sharifi-Zindashti, had carried out assassinations and kidnappings across several jurisdictions to silence perceived critics of Tehran.

The Treasury action freezes any US assets of those targeted and generally bans Americans from dealing with them. The Treasury said that in 2021 the network had recruited a Canadian national and British Columbia-based Hells Angels Outlaw Motorcycle Group member, Damion Patrick John Ryan, to assassinate individuals in the US who fled Iran.

Ryan also allegedly recruited Canadian national and Hells Angels affiliate Adam Richard Pearson to carry out the murders, the Treasury said. Both are currently imprisoned abroad on unrelated charges.

The sanctions come amid soaring tensions in the Middle East. The US and UK accused Iran-backed groups earlier on Monday of a drone attack in Jordan near the border with Syria that killed three US military personnel.

Britain imposed sanctions on Iranian officials it said were involved in threats to kill journalists on British soil and others it said were part of international criminal gangs linked to Tehran.

The UK Foreign Office said it would “sanction seven individuals and one organisation, including senior Iranian officials and members of organised criminal gangs who collaborate with the regime.”

“The Iranian regime and the criminal gangs who operate on its behalf pose an unacceptable threat to the UK’s security,” British Foreign Secretary David Cameron said in a statement. “The UK and US have sent a clear message – we will not tolerate this threat,” he added.

Earlier, American forces destroyed a missile belonging to Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthis on Wednesday that posed an “imminent threat” to US aircraft, the military said.

The United States has carried out strikes on the Houthis both unilaterally and jointly with Britain, but previous air raids were focused on reducing the rebels’ ability to target international shipping rather than addressing a danger to aircraft.

US forces “struck and destroyed a Houthi surface-to-air missile that was prepared to launch” after determining that it “presented an imminent threat to US aircraft,” US Central Command (CENTCOM) said in a statement.

CENTCOM did not identify the type of aircraft that were threatened or the exact location of the strike, only saying that it took place in “Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen.”

Houthi-run Al-Masirah television had earlier said US and UK aircraft had targeted the northern city of Saada, but did not identify the specific target or provide information on damage or casualties.

The rebels began targeting Red Sea shipping in November, saying they were hitting Israeli-linked vessels in support of Palestinians in Gaza, which has been ravaged by the Israel-Hamas war.

US and UK forces have responded with strikes on the Houthis, who have since declared American and British interests to be legitimate targets as well.

Some of the US strikes have been carried out against missiles that CENTCOM has said posed an imminent threat to ships, indicating a robust surveillance effort focused on Houthi-controlled territory that likely involves military aircraft.

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