Newly Formed Operation Prosperity Guardian To Protect Red Sea Shipping

During his visit to the Middle East next week, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will announce the formation of Operation Prosperity Guardian, a new international effort deal with Houthi threats, a U.S. military official told The War Zone. That information comes as U.S. and British warships shot down drones the Houthis launched in a wave from Yemen early Saturday morning local time, marking the latest escalation of attacks on shipping in the Red Sea.

The Arleigh Burke class guided missile destroyer USS Carney downed 14 drones today, a U.S. military official told The War Zone. The Type-45 destroyer HMS Diamond downed one drone targeting merchant shipping in the Red Sea with a Sea Viper missile, U.K. Defense Secretary Grant Shapps said in a statement. It was the first time the Royal Navy shot down an aerial target in anger since the First Gulf War in 1991 when the Type 42 Destroyer HMS Gloucester destroyed an Iraqi Silkworm missile bound for a U.S. warship.

The two destroyers, which were in constant communications, shot down the drones during a 45-minute attack wave near the Bab al-Mandab Strait, the official told us, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss operational details.

While the British say the drones were attacking a merchant ship, the Carney engaged the drones because there were so many at once they were deemed a threat to the ship, the official said.

The official declined to say what weapons the Carney used because the U.S. does not want the Houthis to be able to figure out its munitions stocks.

In a Tweet, CENTCOM stated the drones “were shot down with no damage to ships in the area or reported injuries. Regional Red Sea partners were alerted to the threat.”

Houthi spokesman Yahya Sare’e said today that the Iranian-backed Yemeni rebels launched a wave of drones toward Israel, but did not mention either warship.

Today’s drone intercepts come a day after the Houthis set two cargo ships in the Red Sea ablaze and threatened a third vessel. Two of the world’s largest shipping companies, Maersk and Hapag-Lloyd, told us they were temporarily pausing transits into the Red Sea as a result of the Houthi attacks. You can read more about those incidents in our story here.

Austin, who will be visiting the region early next week with Joint Chiefs Chairman Air Force Gen. C.Q. Brown, will announce Operation Prosperity Guardian, which will be similar to the existing Task Force 153, the official told us. That’s an international effort focusing “on international maritime security and capacity building efforts in the Red Sea, Bab al-Mandeb and Gulf of Aden.”

The official could not say Saturday how many nations will be involved or exactly what missions they will perform beyond patrolling the Red Sea against Houthi threats.

Shapps on Saturday noted that the Diamond recently arrived in the Red Sea “to bolster international efforts to maintain maritime security” as we previously reported.

“The recent spate of illegal attacks represent a direct threat to international commerce and maritime security in the Red Sea,” Shapps said. “The U.K. remains committed to repelling these attacks to protect the free flow of global trade.”

The Type 45 destroyer HMS Diamond downed a drone fired from Houthi-controlled Yemen, according to Defense Secretary Grant Shapps. (U.K. Defense Ministry photo)

“One-sixth of the world’s commercial shipping passes through the Bab-al-Mandeb Strait and Red Sea,” said First Sea Lord, Adm. Sir Ben Key in a statement. “HMS Diamond deployed at short notice to the region from Portsmouth just two weeks ago and is already delivering effect together with our American, French and other allies and partners.”

“The Royal Navy is committed to upholding the right to free use of the oceans and we do not tolerate indiscriminate threats or attacks against those going about their lawful business on the high seas,” he added.

While today’s incidents mark the first time a U.K. warship downed an aerial threat since 1991, it was at least the third time since the start of the Israel-Hamas war that the Carney has.

On Dec. 3, three missiles fired from Houthi-controlled territory in Yemen struck three commercial ships in the Red Sea, CENTCOM said at the time. Carney responded to distress calls from two of those vessels and downed three drones approaching it.

Oct. 19, Carney shot down four land attack cruise missiles and 19 drones, a U.S. official told The War Zone the next day.

As we reported earlier this week, a French warship has also engaged in intercepting Houthi drones. The FREMM Frigate Languedoc, patrolling off the coast of Yemen, shot down a drone threatening a Norwegian-flagged chemical tanker.

While there will be a new task force created next week, whether there will be any direct response against Houthi military targets remains to be seen.

This is a developing story.

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Howard Altman

Senior Staff Writer

Howard is a Senior Staff Writer for The War Zone, and a former Senior Managing Editor for Military Times. Prior to this, he covered military affairs for the Tampa Bay Times as a Senior Writer. Howard's work has appeared in various publications including Yahoo News, RealClearDefense, and Air Force Times.