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The U.S. has repeatedly fired missiles into Yemen. What does it hope to accomplish?


The United States is escalating its fighting in Yemen. What does it hope to accomplish?


The U.S. has repeatedly fired missiles into Yemen. It is responding to Houthi fighters who control much of that country and who have been attacking global shipping as it moves past the Yemeni coast. This is seen as part of a gradually widening Mideast conflict because Houthis claim they are responding to the Israel-Hamas war.

MARTIN: NPR national security correspondent Greg Myre has been measuring U.S. goals against the results, and he's with us now. Good morning, Greg.

GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Good morning, Michel.

MARTIN: Greg, I'm going to ask you to start by telling us what the U.S. has done so far and what exactly is the objective.

MYRE: Well, the objective is to get the Houthis to stop attacking ships in the Red Sea because it's such a vital shipping lane. And the U.S. carried out its third round of strikes on Tuesday. A U.S. official said this knocked out Houthi missiles that were being prepared to target more cargo ships. And in all three of these strikes in recent days, the U.S. says it has hit the Houthi targets. But the U.S. also acknowledged that just hours after this strike yesterday, the Houthis did manage to launch a missile that hit a Greek-owned vessel. The damage was limited. The ship kept on its path through the Red Sea. But clearly, the Houthis have not been deterred up to this point.

MARTIN: So if not much deterrence is happening at this point, I guess the goal is to deplete its supply of weapons and drones over time. Is there any way to assess whether that is happening?

MYRE: Well, it certainly hasn't happened at this point, and it's too early to tell if the U.S. would be able to do that. Analysts say you shouldn't expect the Houthis to run out of weapons in the short term. Yemen is a very poor country, and it doesn't make these weapons. But according to the U.S., Iran has been supplying the Houthis with missiles, with drones and intelligence that it is using in these attacks. And the Houthis have proven themselves to be very resilient fighters. They emerged as a top military force in Yemen after years of civil war in that country.

One thing I should note - missiles are expensive, and there may be some limit on how many Iran wants to give to the Houthis. Drones are cheap, and the Houthis could probably keep up with this type of weapon for a very long time.

MARTIN: Now, the Houthis say they are attacking ships with some connection to Israel. Is this an accurate claim?

MYRE: Well, it's certainly a claim that resonates in the Middle East right now. I mean, one thing we're often hearing is that the Houthis are doing more than any group or country to support the Palestinians in Gaza. But is it accurate? I mean, remember; these are commercial ships from all over the world traveling in international waters. In one or two instances, the Houthis have claimed some fuzzy, tenuous connections to Israel. But overwhelmingly, there's no evidence of Israeli links. For example, this ship on Tuesday is Greek-owned. It traveled under a Maltese flag.

MARTIN: Well, so to that end, I mean, President Biden says he wants to prevent a wider regional war, but is this starting to look like that?

MYRE: Well, it certainly could. You know, the Israeli-Hamas war has now been raging for more than a hundred days. Hostilities are now playing out in five or six places daily in the Middle East, and U.S. forces are attacking or being attacked in several of them. So, Michel, it is absolutely a very volatile moment.

MARTIN: That is NPR's Greg Myre. Greg, thank you.

MYRE: Sure thing, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.
Greg Myre is a national security correspondent with a focus on the intelligence community, a position that follows his many years as a foreign correspondent covering conflicts around the globe.