The US Navy said Wednesday it will begin a new task force with allied countries to patrol the Red Sea after a series of attacks attributed to Yemen's Houthi rebels in a waterway that's essential to global trade. The AP reports Vice Adm. Brad Cooper, who oversees the Navy's Mideast-based 5th Fleet, declined four times to directly name the Iran-backed Houthis in his remarks to journalists announcing the task force. However, the Houthis have launched explosive-laden drone boats and mines into the waters of the Red Sea, which runs from Egypt's Suez Canal in the north, down through the narrow Bab el-Mandeb Strait in the south that separates Africa from the Arabian Peninsula.
The Combined Maritime Forces command, a 34-nation organization which Cooper oversees from a base in Bahrain, already has three task forces that handle piracy and security issues both inside and outside of the Persian Gulf. The new task force will be commissioned Sunday and will see the USS Mount Whitney, a Blue Ridge class amphibious command ship, join it. Cooper said he hoped the task force of two to eight ships at a time would target those smuggling coal, drugs, weapons, and people in the waterway.
The Houthis seized Yemen's capital, Sanaa, in September 2014. A Saudi-led coalition entered the war on the side of Yemen's exiled government in March 2015. Years of inconclusive fighting have pushed the Arab world's poorest nation to the brink of famine. A truce around the holy Muslim fasting month of Ramadan appears for now to still be holding. As for the Red Sea, it is a vital shipping lane for both cargo and the global energy supplies, making any mining of the area a danger not only to Saudi Arabia but to the rest of the world. Mines can enter the water and then be carried away by the currents, which change by the season in the Red Sea.
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