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Source: NY Times

Dec 4, 2023

U.S. Considers Task Force to Guard Red Sea Ships From Iranian Proxy Forces

The discussions come after a U.S. destroyer downed three drones targeting commercial ships on Sunday, part of a series of attacks by the Iranian-backed Houthi militia tied to Israel’s war against Hamas.

By Peter Baker

The United States is in discussions with its allies to set up a naval task force to guard ships traveling through the Red Sea after the latest attack on several commercial vessels in what appears to be an escalating extension of Israel’s war with Hamas by Iranian-sponsored proxy forces.

Jake Sullivan, President Biden’s national security adviser, said on Monday that such patrols or escorts could be the appropriate response to the targeting of ships in the region. He compared the mission to similar task forces in the Gulf, where Iranian naval forces have at times been aggressive with other ships, and off the coast of Somalia, where pirates have preyed on private vessels in the past.

“We are in talks with other countries about a maritime task force of sorts involving the ships from partner nations alongside the United States in ensuring safe passage of ships in the Red Sea,” Mr. Sullivan told reporters at the White House. “Those talks are ongoing as we speak. I don’t have anything formal to announce. But that would be a natural part of the comprehensive response to what we’re seeing.”

Mr. Sullivan’s comments came a day after several commercial ships came under fire and a U.S. Navy destroyer shot down three drones during an hourslong attack on Sunday. One of the drones intercepted was heading toward the destroyer, the U.S.S. Carney, according to United States Central Command. There were no injuries or damage reported by the Carney, the Pentagon said.

The drones were tracked to parts of Yemen controlled by the Houthi militia, an Iranian-backed force that has launched a series of assaults on Israeli and American targets since the Oct. 7 terrorist attack led by Hamas against Israel. The Houthis said they were determined to prevent Israeli ships from sailing in the Red Sea until Israel stops its assault on Hamas in Gaza.

Mr. Sullivan said he did not believe all three of the commercial ships targeted on Sunday had ties to Israel, adding that their targeting would not have been justified even if they were. In fact, Mr. Sullivan said the three ships were connected to 14 different nations. “This is an issue for the entire world, for every country that relies upon maritime commerce to sustain their economy,” he said. “By the way, that is every country.”

He added that the attacks were “fully enabled by Iran,” the Houthis’ patron. “They’re the ones with their finger on the trigger,” he said of the Houthis. “That gun, the weapons here, are being supplied by Iran, and Iran we believe is the ultimate party responsible for this.”

Mr. Sullivan said the United States would “take appropriate action” in consultation with allies “at a time and place of our choosing.” Republicans have criticized the Biden administration for not doing more to counter such aggression by Iranian proxies.

“The Biden administration saying ‘don’t’ to Iran and its proxies clearly is not working,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina. “The Biden administration says ‘don’t’; Iran and its proxies ‘do.’ We need to regain deterrence by letting Iran know its infrastructure is on the target list.”

Peter Baker is the chief White House correspondent for The Times. He has covered the last five presidents and sometimes writes analytical pieces that place presidents and their administrations in a larger context and historical framework. More about Peter Baker

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