Naval task force en route to waters off Yemen

by Gregory Tomlin, |
The aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt and the guided missile cruiser USS Normandy conduct maritime security operations in the Arabian Sea, April 21, 2015. | U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Anthony N. Hilkowski

NEW YORK (Christian Examiner) – A US Navy task force, including the USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier, is headed to the Gulf of Aden off the coast of Yemen to prevent Iranian ships from delivering arms and supplies to Shiite Houthi rebels seeking to overthrow the country's Sunni government.

On April 20, the U.S. Navy said it was ordering the carrier and a guided missile cruiser to link up with other ships already in the region "as a result of the current instability in Yemen."

"The purpose of the operations is to ensure the vital shipping lanes in the region remain open and safe. The United States remains committed to its regional partners and to maintaining security in the maritime environment," the statement from the U.S. Navy Central Command said.

According to reports from the region, a flotilla of eight Iranian ships were steaming toward the country to deliver arms and – presumably – as a show of force against Saudi Arabia, which has been conducting airstrikes on rebel positions in Yemen.

The Iranian Navy, however, is downplaying its show of force. According to Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayyari, the Iranian Navy is only conducting "anti-piracy" operations against Somali pirates. He told the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA), one of the official organs of the country's ruling religious sect, that Iran had not been told to leave the region's waters – and he said Iran's forces would not heed calls to leave if confronted.

"Iran has an active presence in the Gulf of Aden and so far the navy forces have escorted over 2,500 vessels in the area," Sayyari told IRNA.

Saudi Arabia's air campaign against rebels in Yemen has come to an end, the Saudi Press Agency reported. Now, the country will focus on protecting its border and ensuring a stable government in Yemen to "restore hope" to its citizens, a Saudi military spokesman said.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said the United States had made Iran aware of its concerns about the arming of Houthi rebels. He said the U.S. remains committed to preventing actions that "will only contribute to greater violence in the country. These are exactly the kind of destabilizing activities that we have in mind when we raise concerns about Iran's destabilizing activities in the Middle East."