The naval force will patrol the smuggling paths used for supplying weapons to Yemen’s Houthis.

The US Navy has established a multinational task force that would target arms smuggling routes close to Yemen.

The move comes as the latest American military response to Houthi attacks on Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Washington has sought to reassure Saudi Arabia and the UAE by providing additional military support following the missile and drone attacks on the Gulf nations in recent months.

Fifth Fleet Commander Vice Admiral Brad Cooper said on Wednesday that the task force would, from Sunday, ensure a force presence and deterrent posture in the Red Sea, Bab al Mandab and the Gulf of Aden.

"These are strategically important waters that warrant our attention," Cooper said on a call with reporters, adding that the trafficking of people and drugs would also be targeted. 

READ MORE: US Navy seizes arms from Iran likely bound for Yemen

Curbing pirate attacks

The waters around Yemen are a key passageway for global trade, including oil supplies, and vessels have in the past been targeted by the Houthi rebels, as well as other forces.

Increased naval patrols helped curb pirate attacks on commercial vessels navigating nearby waters more than a decade ago.

Asked about the air raids from Yemen on US partners Saudi Arabia and the UAE, Cooper said the task force would impact the Houthi's ability to obtain the weaponry needed for such attacks.

"We'll be able to do it more vibrantly and more directly than we do today," Cooper added. 

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Targeting arms smuggling

A US official told Reuters that the waters between Somalia, Djibouti and Yemen were well-known "smuggling paths" for weapons destined for the Houthis.

"The new international task force will certainly go after this issue," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Iran has long been accused of smuggling weapons to the Houthis, a charge it denies.

The new naval task force would consist of between two and eight vessels and is part of the 34-nation Combined Maritime Forces, which Cooper also commands, that has three other task forces in nearby waters targeting smuggling and piracy.

The United States has provided Saudi Arabia and the UAE this year with additional air defence support following the Houthi attacks.

But diplomatic sources have said that the Gulf states remain convinced that the US commitment to the region is weakening.

The launch of the task force comes amid a two-month truce in the nearly seven-year Yemen war that has killed tens of thousands of people and displaced millions more. 

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Confiscated weapons

A few months ago, the US Navy seized a large cache of assault rifles and ammunition being smuggled by a fishing ship from Iran likely bound for war-ravaged Yemen.

US Navy patrol ships discovered the weapons aboard what the Navy described as a stateless fishing vessel in an operation in the northern reaches of the Arabian Sea off Oman and Pakistan.

The Navy's 5th fleet said it has confiscated some 8,700 illicit weapons in 2021 across the 2.5 million-square-mile area it patrols, including the Red Sea and the Arabian Gulf.

The United Nations found thousands of weapons seized in the Arabian Sea likely came from an Iranian port, The Wall Street Journal newspaper reported, saying that boats and land transport were used to smuggle weapons made in Russia, China and Iran into Yemen.

Yemen’s war erupted in 2014, when the Houthi rebels seized the capital of Sanaa and much of the country's north. 

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Source: TRTWorld and agencies