Pentagon Reveals More Yemen Strikes Were Carried Out as Progressives in Congress Bristle

USS Carney defeats a combination of Houthi missiles and UAVs
he Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Carney defeats a combination of Houthi missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles in the Red Sea, Oct. 19, 2023. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Aaron Lau)

The U.S. and U.K. strikes on Houthi targets inside Yemen were nearly twice as large as previously disclosed, hitting a total of just under 30 different locations, a senior member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff revealed Friday.

Air Force Central Command had said Thursday that American forces hit more than 60 targets at 16 locations controlled by the Iranian-backed militants. But speaking with reporters Friday, Lt. Gen. Douglas Sims, the Joint Staff's director for operations, said that immediately following those initial strikes, there were 12 other locations identified and struck.

Meanwhile, the U.S. military's barrage in Yemen was largely viewed on Capitol Hill as a necessary response to months of Houthi aggression in the Red Sea, even as President Joe Biden took some heat from progressive members of his own party who believe he overstepped his authority as commander in chief.

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    The U.S. and U.K. militaries, with support from Australia, Bahrain, Canada and the Netherlands, pounded sites in Yemen on Thursday that American officials said were integral to Houthi radar, missile and drone capabilities.

    While U.S. officials have so far failed to offer any specifics about any of the targets selected, a statement from the British Ministry of Defence released Thursday evening said four of its jets hit a site in the town of Bani in northwestern Yemen that was responsible for launching reconnaissance and attack drones, and an airfield at Abbs that was used to launch both cruise missiles and drones.

    The strikes were retaliation for a series of Houthi attacks in the Red Sea that have menanced international shipping since October, destabilizing the global economy and putting in harm's way U.S. Navy ships that are patrolling the shipping corridor.

    The Navy's aircraft carrier in the region, the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, launched 22 fixed-wing aircraft for the strike, a U.S. official revealed to on Friday. In a video posted to social media by U.S. Central Command following the attack, the ship is seen launching an F/A-18 Super Hornet, an EA-18G Growler and an E-2 Hawkeye aircraft.

    The cruiser USS Philippine Sea and destroyers USS Gravely and USS Mason also participated in the strike, the U.S. official added. has also learned that the guided missile submarine USS Florida was part of the strike.

    Sims told reporters that "there were just over 150 various munitions used" -- a figure that included both the bombs dropped by aircraft as well as Tomahawk land attack missiles launched from Navy ships -- against multiple targets at each of the 28 target locations.

    The U.S. official who spoke to on Friday said the Navy launched more than 80 Tomahawk missiles, apparently making them responsible for a majority of the destructive force leveled against Houthi targets on Thursday.

    The Pentagon is working on a battle damage assessment of the of the various targets, Sims said, but stressed that "we feel very confident about where our ammunition struck." He added that he doesn't expect the number of casualties to be very high since most of the locations that were targeted were in areas that "were not built up at all."

    The Houthis, which have waged a civil war in Yemen since 2014 with weapons and other support from Iran, have claimed their goal is to target Israeli ships in response to Israel's war in the Gaza Strip. But merchant ships from around the world with no connection to Israel or the war have been targeted.

    Capitol Hill Reaction

    As the Houthi attacks continued to escalate throughout November and December, Republican lawmakers grew increasingly critical that the Biden administration had yet to respond militarily.

    After the strikes Thursday, those Republicans cheered, though they still took the opportunity to criticize Biden for not acting sooner and to call for further action.

    "President Biden's decision to use military force against these Iranian proxies is overdue," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said in a statement. "To restore deterrence and change Iran's calculus, Iranian leaders themselves must believe that they will pay a meaningful price unless they abandon their worldwide campaign of terror. The United States and our allies must leave no room to doubt that the days of unanswered terrorist aggression are over."

    Biden's Democratic allies in Congress brushed off the criticism that he should have acted sooner. Pointing to the fact that the strikes were done in concert with U.S. allies, they argued it is a difficult and slow process to build international consensus.

    Most Democrats supported the strikes, echoing the Biden administration's description of the military action as "necessary and proportional."

    "These strikes, in concert with weeks of diplomacy, send a clear signal that the United States will continue to take appropriate action to protect our personnel, our interests, and freedom of navigation for vital international waterways," Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jack Reed, D-R.I., said in a statement.

    But progressive Democrats, as well as some anti-interventionist Republicans, bristled at the fact that Biden struck the Houthis without seeking congressional approval.

    While the administration notified Congress ahead of the strikes, it didn't ask lawmakers to pass an authorization for the use of military force. The U.S. and other countries that supported the strikes cited "the inherent right of individual and collective self-defense, consistent with the U.N. Charter," as the legal basis for the military action.

    Progressives, though, argued that striking Yemen without congressional approval overstepped Biden's constitutional authorities.

    "@POTUS is violating Article I of the Constitution by carrying out airstrikes in Yemen without congressional approval," Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., posted on social media, referring to the section of the Constitution that gives Congress the power to declare war. "The American people are tired of endless war."

    Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash.; former caucus chair Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis.; and Democratic Reps. Cori Bush of Missouri, Ro Khanna of California, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts made similar comments. The same lawmakers have made similar arguments after military action by presidents in both parties.

    With congressional leadership on both sides of the aisle supporting Thursday's action, any legislative attempt to curtail Biden's war powers is unlikely to succeed. But the criticism of the Yemen strikes marks the latest split between progressives and the White House since the start of the Israel-Hamas war, potentially adding to intraparty tensions during an election year.

    Some other Democrats, such as House Foreign Affairs Committee ranking member Rep. Gregory Meeks of New York, walked a tightrope of supporting the strikes while expressing concerns about the potential for escalation. Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., one of the upper chamber's top proponents of war powers reform, called the strikes "understandable" but expressed concern about "a back and forth that could draw the U.S. closer to war."

    While administration officials have made clear they want to avoid getting dragged into a broader Middle East war, they are also warning they could retaliate again if Houthi aggression continues.

    "These targeted strikes are a clear message that the United States and our partners will not tolerate attacks on our personnel or allow hostile actors to imperil freedom of navigation in one of the world's most critical commercial routes," Biden said in a statement Thursday. "I will not hesitate to direct further measures to protect our people and the free flow of international commerce as necessary."

    Austin Ordered Strike from Hospital

    The Pentagon's top spokesman, Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder also revealed to reporters Friday that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who has been embroiled in controversy after failing to disclose a cancer diagnosis and subsequent hospitalizations to the public and government leaders, was involved in the strike.

    "Secretary Austin has been actively engaged in overseeing and directing the strikes last night," Ryder said, before noting that Austin was on the phone with top military officials during the Jan. 9 Houthi attack that was the catalyst for the strikes.

    Ryder also said that Austin had "a couple of conversations" with Biden, conducted "multiple daily conversations" with military commanders and the National Security Council, and "it was Secretary Austin, yesterday, who gave the CENTCOM commander the order to execute the strikes."

    "He monitored them from his hospital room in real time, via a full suite of secure communication capabilities, and then, following those strikes, conducted a call with the National Security Council, the chairman, and the Central Command commander for an initial post-strike assessment."

    In a written statement released Friday, Ryder added that Austin also conducted phone calls with House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala.; Senate Armed Services Committee ranking member Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss.; and House Armed Services Committee ranking member Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash.

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