In recent weeks, US warships stationed in the Red Sea have encountered an escalation in attacks from Houthi forces in Yemen. On Saturday, a US destroyer successfully intercepted and downed over a dozen drones in a heightened confrontation.
The Houthi forces, reportedly backed by Iran, have intensified assaults on US interests and Israeli targets since the October 7 attacks by Hamas in Israel. The attacks are a direct response to Israel’s assault on Gaza, with the Houthis demanding humanitarian aid access to Gaza. The Houthis are targeting commercial vessels destined for Israel in response to Israel’s bombardment of Gaza, declaring any such ship a “legitimate target.” Their tactics include drone and missile attacks on commercial shipping, as well as attempting to hijack a vessel by landing commandos via helicopter.
Right now Houthi pirates can disrupt 15% of the world’s trade and there is no means to escort ships by the United States Navy. This is untenable. The strength of our navy is based upon international coalitions and they are collapsing through Administration ineptitude.
Every containership over 8,000TEUs, except for one, have turned from the Bab el-Mandeb.— Sal Mercogliano (WGOW Shipping) 🚢⚓🐪🚒🏴☠️ (@mercoglianos) December 20, 2023
This means that all the major ocean container lines have abandoned the region even after the @DeptofDefense and @CENTCOM have announced Op Prosperity Guardian. pic.twitter.com/kHNMPwx6fP
Unable to travel through the Red Sea to the Suez Canal, our cargo will take 40% longer to get here and cost proportionally more but we cannot allow our vessels to be shot at by a gang of well-armed pirates.
Responding to the growing threat, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced a new operation aimed at safeguarding merchant ships in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden.
“I am announcing the establishment of Operation Prosperity Guardian, an important new multinational security initiative under the umbrella of the Combined Maritime Forces and the leadership of its Task Force 153, which focuses on security in the Red Sea,” Austin said in a statement. The operation includes the United Kingdom, Bahrain, Canada, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Seychelles and Spain.
Well that’s how it started. France pulled out as soon as it saw how unorganized the US component is.
BREAKING – France is reportedly withdrawing from Operation Prosperity Guardian, a US-led naval coalition against the Houthis— Angelo Giuliano (@angeloinchina) December 22, 2023
According to US-based maritime experts, the French navy wants to escort EU ships in the Red Sea, while the US still has no clue what to do with the… pic.twitter.com/6UYx8w77ow
He's not kidding. This has turned into the biggest own goal of all the FUBAR things this admin has done, other than the AFG withdrawal.— HUNTSMAN 🏴☠️ (@maphumanintent) December 21, 2023
This gap is why I'm so bullish on me and the boys providing commercial sector solutions for natsec and maritime domain challenges Uncle Sam… https://t.co/HB9SZUiSNt
Jake Sullivan’s team at White House has running much of the coalition building directly with minimal US Navy or MARAD involvement… and it’s a total mess! Why is it a mess? The maritime interests of the nation were left to atrophy by the Obama administration who put a junior white house staffer and them a navy O5 submarine commander in charge of the important US Maritime Administration.
Trump recognized the deficiency and appointed three shipowners to his cabinet, put an experienced admiral in charge pf MARAD and opened a maritime desk – heady by a smart and – as Joshua Steinman can confirm – put an ambitious USCG officer- inside the national security council. On day one of the Biden administration they closed the NSC maritime desk leaving the White House without any maritime experience.
Secretary Pete was given DOT as a political favor and MARAD was staffed with a long retired Admiral who had a multi-billion dollar climate change agenda.
This is not a political tweet – much of what the Trump administration tried to accomplish in the Maritime domain failed in the last year or was overturned by entrenched civil servants – but they did have an abundance of Maritime and Navy experts at the highest levels and had a few home runs like the revitalization of Philly shipyard, and the building brand new college training ships.
Biden has no maritime expertise on staff. Furthermore Biden put an army general as secretary defense, and has done a little to nothing to support the US Navy.
tl;dr There is an extreme lack of maritme and naval expertise within this administration. The result is that the cornerstone of Naval strength – which is not our carrier groups, it is the strength of our allied coalitions – has fallen apart over the course of just a couple of days.
Out of our naval allies, only ten signed up for Operation Prosperity Guardian. Two of those refused to comit any hard assets. Two had few assets to supply. And one – France – stormed out of the first operational meeting in disgust and quit the group to go protect its own ships.
And now the most important waterway of global maritime commerce is blocked to all but French owned ships (they will open it up to EU ships shortly), US flagged ships with sailors aboard sit without protection in the Red Sea, and thousands of ships are going around the Cape of Good Hope emitting untold amount of carbon which the Biden administration claims is a priority.
This is an EPIC failure and a completely avoidable one. The White House has no shipping or naval expertise and should not have taken charge of this operation. This operation should have been handed off to Sec Nav with close assistance by Secretary Peter. I have very little faith in secretary Pete’s maritime knowledge, but the secretary of the Navy – Carlos del Toro – has done an excellent job in the last few months . He is the one who needs to run point here without interference from Sec Def and POTUS.
It appears that #France is withdrawing from #OpProsperityGuardian and will be conducting their own escort operation.— Sal Mercogliano (WGOW Shipping) 🚢⚓🐪🚒🏴☠️ (@mercoglianos) December 21, 2023
They are making overtures to other European Union nations to escort EU-owned vessels through the Bab el-Mandeb against the #Houthi.
The delays in the… https://t.co/9QdNoM75rW
Watch this Captain
This longish but comprehensive video by John Konrad spells out the predicament we are in. Basically, we do not have enough merchant ships (just 85 and they are spread across the world!) or SEALIFT capabilities.
US coalition is falling apart with rumors France is leaving to go protect 🇫🇷ships while DoD has virtually abandoned 🇺🇸ships idle right NOW within Houthi missile range— John Ʌ Konrad V (@johnkonrad) December 21, 2023
I'm also deeply troubled by the sea of US Naval officers & experts here who push back hard on my concerns. pic.twitter.com/qC34UCCSpD