The Biden administration announced on Wednesday it has decided to reclassify the Houthis in Yemen as a “specially designated global terrorist." News of the decision to add the financial penalties comes as the U.S. continues to launch strikes against the Houthis in response to the Iran-backed militant group’s attacks on commercial shipping in the Red Sea.
"These attacks fit the textbook definition of terrorism," national security adviser Jake Sullivan said in a statement.
Restoring the terrorist designation
The re-designation will take effect on Feb. 16, "to ensure robust humanitarian carve outs are in place so our action targets the Houthis and not the people of Yemen," the statement said.
"This designation is an important tool to impede terrorist funding to the Houthis, further restrict their access to financial markets, and hold them accountable for their actions," Sullivan said in the statement. "If the Houthis cease their attacks in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, the United States will immediately reevaluate this designation."
In 2021, Secretary of State Antony Blinken de-listed the Houthis as both a “foreign terrorist organization” and as “specially designated global terrorists,” undoing a Trump administration move in an effort to make it easier to get humanitarian aid into Yemen.
In an interview with The Hill, Dave Harden, a former senior State Department official who served in both the Trump and Obama administrations, said before the announcement it’s not clear what impact reinstating the SDGT label to the Houthis would have on the current conflict.
“It doesn’t matter to the Houthis that they’re a foreign terrorist organization under U.S. law, they probably like it,” Harden said. “They don’t bank and shop and travel and engage in the Western economy. They’re not like [Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov]. These guys, it doesn’t affect them, and if anything, it’s a badge of honor.”
Here’s what else is happening in the ongoing Red Sea conflict as fears of a wider war in the Middle East continue to grow.
The U.S. launched new strikes against the Houthis on Tuesday, targeting four missiles that appeared to be prepared for attacks on commercial ships, military officials said. It was the third strike against the militant group since the U.S. first took military action last week in response to the Houthis’ repeated attacks on commercial shipping vessels in the Red Sea that are causing major disruptions to global maritime trade. The U.S. and U.K. militaries struck more than 60 targets in more than a dozen Houthi locations in Yemen.
The latest U.S. strikes came after Houthis attempted to hit a U.S. warship on Sunday and damaged a U.S.-owned and operated container ship on Monday.
Hours after Tuesday’s strikes , Houthi militants hit a Greek bulk carrier, but no injuries were reported, according to military officials.
“Just because there hasn't been a catastrophically successful one yet, thanks to a lot of great work by the U.S. Navy and allied and partner navies, doesn't mean that we can just turn a blind eye and sit back and do nothing,” John Kirby, National Security Council spokesperson, told reporters on Tuesday. “We want these attacks to stop. ... We’re not going to hesitate to take further action if needed.”
Two U.S. Navy sailors are missing following Yemen-bound ship raid
Search and rescue operations are currently underway for two U.S. Navy sailors who went missing while conducting a raid of a Yemen-bound ship off the coast of Somalia last Thursday, according to U.S. Central Command.
The U.S. military also announced on Tuesday that, during the raid, Navy SEALs seized Iranian-made missile parts and other weaponry.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with those two sailors and their families, who are waiting anxiously for word. And obviously, we’ll monitor as closely as we can,” Kirby told reporters on Tuesday.