UK says strikes on Houthi military targets were self defence

By Sarah Young and William James

LONDON (Reuters) -U.S. and British strikes against Houthi military targets in Yemen were a limited act of self defence and London does not immediately plan any further missions, its junior defence minister said on Friday.

The two countries launched strikes from the air and sea against Houthi military targets in Yemen in response to the movement’s attacks on ships in the Red Sea since the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza began in October.

British Armed Forces minister James Heappey said the strikes were a proportionate response, and that the government was aware of the need to avoid escalation in the region.

“Our action and the action of the Americans last night was in self defence in order to defend against further attacks on our warships as they go about their legal and reasonable business,” Heappey told Times Radio.

“Of course we have an eye on the need to make sure it doesn’t cause a regional escalation.”

Asked about possible further missions in a separate interview with the BBC, he said : “There are none immediately planned, and that’s an important point. Last night was a limited, proportionate, necessary response.”

The remarks echoed a statement by U.S. President Joe Biden, who said the strikes were “targeted” and that he would not hesitate to take further action if needed.

Russia criticised the strikes, which it said escalated tensions across the Middle East and disregarded international law.

British jets were launched from a Royal Air Force base in Cyprus and struck two targets that had been involved in launching drones and missiles into the Red Sea, Heappey said.

An initial assessment showed the strikes at 2330 GMT on Thursday were successful and the jets had returned to base around 0300 GMT on Friday, he added.

Heappey said the warning to the Houthis remained in place and that the government would see over the next few days whether the attacks in the Red Sea stop.

Asked about criticism from some political opponents that parliament was not given the chance to discuss the strikes in advance, Heappey said Prime Minister Rishi Sunak needed to make such decisions “based on the military, strategic and operational requirements – that led to the timing.”

He said parliament would be given an opportunity to debate “these things” when in session.

(Reporting by Sarah Young, writing by William James; Editing by Kate Holton and Timothy Heritage)