- Written by Matt Murphy
- BBC News, Washington
Biden administration officials said the United States plans to redesignate Yemen’s Houthi rebels as “global terrorists.”
Secretary of State Antony Blinken is expected to approve the move, which comes as Iranian-backed groups continue to attack commercial ships in the Red Sea.
The measure would require U.S. financial institutions to freeze Houthi funds and ban Houthi members from entering the United States.
This reverses Blinken’s 2021 decision to remove the Houthis from the list.
In the waning years of the Trump administration, officials imposed the Houthis the Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT) and Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) labels.
The move comes despite warnings from the United Nations and aid groups that it could push war-torn Yemen into widespread famine.
However, in 2021, shortly after President Joe Biden took office, that decision was reversed by newly appointed Secretary of State Blinken, citing the dire humanitarian situation.
Speaking to reporters ahead of Wednesday’s announcement, government officials defended the decision to reinstate the SDGT designation rather than the FTO designation, saying it was taken to ensure the continued flow of aid to Yemen. did.
One official said “the revocation was the right move” to “recognize the very dire humanitarian situation” in the country and to ensure that “U.S. policy is not impeding” civilian access. He claimed that the measures were taken. Emergency assistance.
But they accepted that the Houthi campaign to attack commercial shipping, in which dozens of missiles were fired at ships in the Red Sea, had become “unacceptable”.
The new SDGT designation, which takes effect within 30 days, prohibits individuals and businesses in the United States from offering any assistance to the Houthis.
But officials were keen to stress that the new designation would include a range of exceptions to ensure humanitarian aid continues to flow to Yemen, which has been devastated by nearly a decade of civil war. Ta.
“We recognize the serious humanitarian situation in Yemen and are taking steps to minimize the harm these sanctions will cause to the Yemeni people,” one of the officials said, adding that the designation It added that it included “unprecedented carve-outs and licensing.”
In November, the Houthis began attacking commercial ships, claiming they were countering Israeli military operations in Gaza. Since then, the group has launched dozens of attacks against commercial tankers transiting the Red Sea, one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.
In response, the US and UK launched airstrikes against dozens of Houthi targets on January 11. The attack, backed by Australia, Bahrain, the Netherlands and Canada, began after Houthi forces ignored an ultimatum to halt attacks on the region.
But Biden administration officials denied the new designation was an admission that air operations might not deter further Houthi attacks.
“We view these sanctions as part of a broader effort to bring back the Houthis from their ongoing terrorist attacks,” one official said. “Our sanctions are best seen as part of a broader effort, rather than in isolation.”
Following last week’s airstrikes, the Houthis said the US and UK would “soon realize” that the action was “the greatest folly in history”.
“The US and UK made the mistake of starting a war against Yemen because they did not benefit from past experience,” the group’s leader, Mohammed al-Bukhaiti, wrote on social media.
Yemen has been ravaged by a civil war that escalated in 2015, when the Houthis seized control of much of the country’s west from the internationally recognized government and launched a Saudi-led coalition to regain control. The military intervened.
The fighting has left more than 160,000 people dead and sparked the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, with 21 million people, two-thirds of the population, reportedly in need of some form of aid.