US gears up for war with Houthis to stop missile strikes on Red Sea shipping

US INTENT ON DEGRADING HOUTHI FIREPOWER: The United States is preparing to mount a sustained bombing campaign against targets in Houthi-controlled western Yemen that will last until the attacks on international shipping in the Red Sea are deterred or Houthi missile stocks are exhausted.

The plans for an open-ended military campaign follow a meeting of senior officials convened by the White House last week, according to a report by the Washington Post, which quoted one unnamed senior administration official as saying, “We’re not sure that they’re going to stop immediately, but we are certainly trying to degrade and destroy their capabilities.” 

The U.S. military has conducted strikes against Houthi anti-ship missiles five of the last seven days, with the latest strike Saturday against a single target. Last Thursday, President Joe Bien conceded the airstrikes have yet to produce the desired effect. “Are they stopping the Houthis? No. Are they going to continue? Yes,” he said.

“The Houthis need to stop these attacks. They can make that choice,” said National Security Council spokesman John Kirby on Friday. “Clearly, they’ve made opposite choices. So, we have choices to make, too, and we have options available to us as well. We’ll continue to explore those options. Clearly, one of the options that we are and will continue to take are in the military realm.”

McKENZIE ‘THE RIGHT THING, A LITTLE LATE’: In an interview with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, retired Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, former head of the U.S. Central Command, said the self-defense strikes on Houthi targets are welcome, if somewhat belated, given the importance of the Bab el Mandeb Strait at the mouth of the Red Sea.

“We’re beginning to take action with our coalition partners to ensure that choke point stays open and that Houthi action doesn’t go unpunished,” McKenzie said. “We may be able yet to deter the Houthis from continuing these actions. There’s still a lot of fighting to go ahead down in the Red Sea in order to obtain that objective, but I believe we’re doing the right thing, although perhaps a little late.”

“They’re having some success now. Why? Because they built up a stockpile of these weapons that have shipped to them from Iran,” McKenzie said. “How do we stop it? First of all, you got to cut off that shipment. We’ve seen efforts recently in the interdiction role to try to reduce the flow on dhows and other vessels down into Yemen. That needs to continue and perhaps be increased.

“At the same time, we need to recognize that the Houthis have a finite number of weapons. …  We have good ISR over Yemen. We can discover these weapons. We can strike these weapons,” he said. “It means more than just striking these weapons. It means striking the radar systems, it means striking the intelligence systems, it means striking the command posts, it means possibly striking Houthi leadership.”

THREAT OF WIDER WAR: Despite all the talk about the possibility that taking action against the Houthis in Yemen could fuel a wider war in the Middle East, McKenzie thinks the threat is overstated.

“Iran has no interest right now in getting into a major war because they understand ultimately what would happen. They would be defeated. The regime would be under severe stress and might in fact collapse,” McKenzie said. “I do not think Iran is going to ratchet up attacks massively across the theater because we’re striking the Houthis. Right now, this is a war on the cheap for them. They’ve waged it very effectively by shipping missiles and other lethal components into Yemen.”

“From the very beginning of the Israeli genocidal war in Gaza, which followed the October operation, we gave warnings that if the attacks, the war crimes, and genocide against Gaza and the West Bank do not stop, the war will spread out. It will become larger. It doesn’t mean that we wanted to play a role in this enlargement,” Iran Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said in a CNN interview that aired Sunday. 

“We do care about maritime security and shipping safety,” Amir-Abdollahian said. “Our exports, our oil exports, are done by the sea. So, the security of the Red Sea and the Oman Sea and the Persian Gulf are very, very important to us. We benefit from it. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be able to export our oil.”


Good Monday morning and welcome to Jamie McIntyre’s Daily on Defense, written and compiled by Washington Examiner National Security Senior Writer Jamie McIntyre (@jamiejmcintyre) and edited by Stacey Dec. Email here with tips, suggestions, calendar items, and anything else. Sign up or read current and back issues at If signing up doesn’t work, shoot us an email and we’ll add you to our list. And be sure to follow me on Threads and/or on X @jamiejmcintyre


HAPPENING TODAY: Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s schedule shows him in Cabo Verde today, the first stop in a weeklong trip to Africa that will include visits to the Ivory Coast, Nigeria, and Angola. 

“We think this trip will hopefully be very positive. A lot of times, the news out of Africa is negative,” Molly Phee, assistant secretary of state for African affairs, told reporters last week. “So, we’ll be looking at issues like our economic partnership, how we are promoting the development of commercial ties.” 

IRANIAN MISSILES HIT US BASE: On Saturday, Iranian-backed militants in western Iraq launched multiple ballistic missiles and rockets that hit the Al Asad Airbase, where U.S. troops are based.

“A number of U.S. personnel are undergoing evaluation for traumatic brain injuries,” the U.S. Central Command said in a press release. “At least one Iraqi service member was wounded.” The U.S. said missiles were intercepted by the base’s air defense systems but that some got through.

The use of ballistic missiles marks an escalation that Behnam Ben Taleblu, a senior fellow and Iran scholar at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, says is aimed at “trying to create a cycle of violence that leads to the eviction of U.S. forces from the region.”

“These are not signaling strikes. Larger caliber rockets or tactical ballistic missiles fired by Iran-backed Shiite militia groups in Iraq are designed to kill,” Taleblu wrote in an email. “The stepped-up targeting of US facilities in Iraq can be explained by several factors, but a proximate one is likely the need for Iran to show force and save face after losing revolutionary guard members hours earlier in Syria amid an attack by Israel.”

“Iranian weapons are now being used in at least five different theaters of conflict across the Middle East,” Taleblu noted.


SEALS DECLARED DECEASED: The U.S. Central Command has called off its search and rescue operation for two U.S. Navy SEALS who were swept away by high seas while trying to board a dhow suspected of carrying Iranian weapons to Yemen on Jan. 11.

As a two-man team was boarding the dhow, one of the SEALs went under in the heavy seas, and his fellow SEAL went in to try and save him, according to initial reports.

“During this expansive search operation, airborne and naval platforms from the U.S., Japan, and Spain continuously searched more than 21,000 square miles to locate our missing teammates,” CENTCOM said in a statement. “We are now conducting recovery operations.”

“We mourn the loss of our two Naval Special Warfare warriors, and we will forever honor their sacrifice and example,” said Gen. Erik Kurilla, commander of the U.S. Central Command. “Our prayers are with the SEALs’ families, friends, the U.S. Navy, and the entire Special Operations community during this time.”


UKRAINE TAKES WAR TO RUSSIA: Yesterday, a massive fire broke out at a chemical transport terminal at a Black Sea port about 100 miles from St. Petersburg after what appears to have been an attack by home-grown Ukrainian drones.

“Ukrainian forces reportedly conducted successful drone strikes against targets in Leningrad (St. Petersburg) and Tula oblasts,” the Institute for the Study of War reported in its latest war assessment. The targets were said to include a plant that makes the Pantsir-S and Pantsir-S1 air defense systems and another complex that reportedly processes gas condensate diesel, kerosene, and naval fuel.

“A Russian insider source claimed on January 21 that Russian air defense coverage over Leningrad Oblast is poor and indicated that Russian air defenses in Leningrad Oblast are likely not arrayed to defend against strikes from the south,” the ISW said.

Also yesterday, shelling in the Russian-occupied outskirts of Donetsk reportedly killed at least 27 people and wounded 25, including two children. It’s unclear who was responsible for the shelling. Ukrainian officials in Kyiv did not comment on the incident. 



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Washington Examiner: Opinion: US must ‘super escalate’ to end the standoff in the Red Sea

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CBS News: As Israel-Hamas War Tension Spreads, CBS News Meets Troops On A U.S. Warship Bracing For Any Escalation

Politico: Lawmakers Push for More Money for Missiles amid Red Sea Clash

BBC: Understanding a Week of Missile Strikes across Middle East

Financial Times: ‘Active Defense’: How Ukraine Plans to Survive 2024

Wall Street Journal: Ukraine’s $30 Billion Problem: How To Keep Fighting Without Foreign Aid

Reuters: Russia Suspends Operations At Fuel Export Terminal After Suspected Ukrainian Drone Attack

The Economist: America and Iran step closer to the brink of war

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1 p.m. — Middle East Forum virtual discussion: “The Middle East’s Widening War,” with retired British Army Col. Richard Kemp


8 a.m. — Virtual meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group hosted by U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin

9:30 a.m. G-50 Dirksen — Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the nominations of Melissa Dalton to be Air Force undersecretary, Douglas Schmidt to be director of operational test and evaluation at the Defense Department, and Aprille Ericsson to be assistant Defense secretary for science and technology


10 a.m. S-116, U.S. Capitol — Senate Foreign Relations Committee markup of S.2003, to authorize the Secretary of State to provide additional assistance to Ukraine using assets confiscated from the Central Bank of the Russian Federation and other sovereign assets of the Russian Federation and to vote on the nominations of Kurt Campbell to be deputy secretary of State, Cardell Richardson Sr. to be inspector general of the State Department, Nicole Shampaine for the rank of ambassador during her tenure of service as U.S. representative to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, Sean Maloney to be representative of the U.S. to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Jeffrey Prescott to be U.S. representative to the United Nations Agencies for Food and Agriculture, Charlie Crist to be representative of the U.S. on the Council of the International Civil Aviation Organization, Joann Lockard to be ambassador to Burkina Faso, and Robert Gioia to be a commissioner on the part of the U.S. on the International Joint Commission, U.S. and Canada

12 p.m. 208 Massachusetts Ave. NE — Heritage Foundation in-person and virtual discussion: “A Decade of Decline: The Need to Restore America’s Military Power,” with Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS); retired Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg; noted grand strategist Elbridge Colby, former deputy assistant secretary of defense for strategy and force development; and former Green Beret Joe Kent

1 p.m. — Hudson Institute virtual discussion: “Solving Operational Problems with Today’s Technology: Launching the Apex Conference Series,” with Aditi Kumar, deputy director for strategy, policy, and national security partnerships, Defense Innovation Unit; Margaret Palmieri, deputy chief digital artificial intelligence officer, Department of Defense; Shyam Sankar, chief technology officer, Palantir; Scott Forney, president, General Atomics Electromagnetic Systems; Thomas Browning, assistant secretary of defense for mission capabilities; Jimmy Jones, STITCHES Warfighter Application team lead, U.S. Air Force; Sally de Swart, managing director, Clarion Defense and Security; Bryan Clark, senior fellow and director, Center for Defense Concepts and Technology; and Vago Muradian, editor, Defense and Aerospace Report

3 p.m. — Middle East Forum virtual discussion: “Israel Insider,” with Alex Selsky, senior adviser, MEF Israel Victory Project, and lecturer at Hadassah Academic College


6:30 p.m. Grand Rapids, Michigan — Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library and Museum and Gerald R. Ford Presidential Foundation book discussion: UFO: The Inside Story of the US Government’s Search for Alien Life Here — and Out There, with author Garrett Graff


2 p.m. 1201 Pennsylvania Ave. NW — Hudson Institute event. “A Conversation with Rep. Darrell Issa on U.S.-South Asia Relations,” with Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Aparna Pande, Hudson research fellow, India and South Asia