Biden says US strikes on Houthis in Yemen have not stopped Red Sea attacks

Biden speaks to reporters on his way to North Carolina

Houthi forces launched a new missile attack on a US-owned vessel on Thursday, after President Joe Biden said American strikes have not deterred the militants’ campaign in the Red Sea.

The Pentagon said no damage or injuries were reported after Houthis fired two missiles at the MV Chem Ranger.

The attack followed a fifth round of US strikes in Yemen earlier on Thursday.

The White House said US forces “took out a range of Houthi missiles” that were to be fired towards the Red Sea.

Speaking after the US strikes, Mr Biden was asked by reporters in Washington DC if the attacks on Houthi targets were working.

“Well, when you say working are they stopping the Houthis? No,” he said.

“Are they gonna continue? Yes.”

US Central Command – which oversees US operations in the Middle East – said in a statement that it had “conducted strikes on two Houthi anti-ship missiles that were aimed into the Southern Red Sea and were prepared to launch” on Thursday.

“US forces identified the missiles in Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen” around 15:40 local time (12:40GMT) “and determined they were an imminent threat to merchant vessels and US Navy ships in the region”.

“US forces subsequently struck and destroyed the missiles in self-defense.”

Pentagon Deputy Press Secretary Sabrina Singh later told reporters at a briefing: “We do not seek war.”

“We are not at war with the Houthis. Actions we are taking are defensive in nature.”

Centcom also confirmed the attempted attack on the MV Chem Ranger. Officials said two anti-ship missiles were fired at the Marshall Island-flagged, US owned ship, but both fell short of the vessel.

Yemen’s military spokesperson earlier released a statement saying that there had been “direct hits” to the ship.

A US-owned vessel was also hit on Wednesday, hours after Washington re-designated the Houthis as a terrorist organisation.

In a fiery speech on Thursday, the leader of the Houthis called it a “great honour” to be “in direct confrontation” with Israel, the US and the UK.

“The aggression against our dear people is a violation, aggression, a direct encroachment of the sovereignty of Yemen and a direct assault on the Yemeni people”, said Abdul Malik al-Houthi.

The Houthis began attacking merchant vessels in November, saying they were responding to Israel’s military operation in Gaza. Since then, the group has launched dozens of attacks on commercial tankers passing through the Red Sea, one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.

In response, the US and UK launched a wave of air strikes against dozens of Houthi targets on 11 January. The strikes – supported by Australia, Bahrain, the Netherlands and Canada – began after Houthi forces ignored an ultimatum to cease attacks in the region.

Diego Garcia: UN says UK military island not suitable for stranded migrants

Migrants fleeing Sri Lanka pictured on the deck of the Marayan, a 50 ft fishing boat
Image caption,An image provided by one of the migrants shows people on the deck of a boat before landing on Diego Garcia

The United Nations refugee agency has said a remote British territory in the Indian Ocean, which hosts a secretive UK-US military base, is “not a suitable location” for migrants to be held long-term, after being granted rare access.

Dozens of Sri Lankan Tamils have been stranded for more than two years in a makeshift camp on Diego Garcia.

It is the first time asylum claims have been filed in the territory.

The UK government said it was looking for a “long-term solution”.

“The wellbeing and safety of migrants is the… top priority” of the British Indian Ocean Territory administration, a spokesperson added. British Indian Ocean Territory (Biot) is the islands’ official name.

UNHCR representatives visited Diego Garcia towards the end of 2023 in a trip facilitated by UK authorities. It was the first time they had been given access to the island since the migrants’ arrival more than two years ago.

The UN agency said it was “following up” with officials about what it had found.

“Diego Garcia is an island hosting a military base with virtually no civilian population, and is not a suitable location for long-term residence for this group,” a spokesperson said in a brief statement to the BBC.

“We continue to call on the UK to ensure fair and efficient determination of the pending claims, and to secure solutions for those found to be in need of international protection, in line with international law.”

The first group of Tamils landed on Diego Garcia in October 2021 after their boat ran into trouble while trying to sail to Canada, according to migrants and officials.

The island is located hundreds of miles from any other population, and unauthorised visitors are forbidden.

The group’s subsequent asylum claims were the first ever to be launched on Biot – an area described as being “constitutionally distinct and separate from the UK”, and where court papers say the Refugee Convention does not apply.

Many of the group claim to have links with the former Tamil Tiger rebels in Sri Lanka, who were defeated in the civil war that ended in 2009, and say they have faced persecution as a result.

Hunger strikes

Asylum seekers have described conditions on the island as hellish, but the territory’s unusual legal status has left them in limbo.

There have been multiple suicide attempts and instances of self-harm. There have also been hunger strikes, which lawyers say have involved children.

“We are living a lifeless life. I feel like I am living like a dead man,” one man told the BBC last year.

Lawyers representing asylum seekers on Diego Garcia say about 60 people remain on the island. Several people have been relocated to Rwanda for treatment following suicide attempts.

The BBC understands this arrangement is separate to the government’s plan to send some asylum seekers to the east African country, which passed a significant milestone in Parliament this week..

“Our clients have been in limbo on Diego Garcia for over two years and have still not had their claims for international protection lawfully determined,” one of the group’s lawyers, Tessa Gregory, said.

“The conditions they are having to endure… are dire and entirely unsuitable for a group which includes children and survivors of torture and sexual violence.”

Ms Gregory added that UK lawyers representing the migrants were seeking access to the island.

So far, five people have had their claims for international protection approved, but no country has yet been identified to relocate them to.

The spokesperson said the government was “working with third countries to accept any who cannot be safely returned to their country of origin”.

The government has previously told the BBC that “all allegations of mistreatment are taken seriously and fully investigated”.