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Grant Shapps praises ‘heroic’ UK military after daring Houthi air raids | World | News


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Grant Shapps

Grant Shapps praises ‘heroic’ UK military after daring Houthi air raids (Image: Getty)

In a special message by Mr Shapps, he said their “professionalism is noted by the whole nation with pride” and “showcased the sense of purpose, strength, and expertise across defence”.

But he warned that 2024 promised to deliver a more challenging and dangerous world, and that “we will need to draw on this even more”.

Meanwhile, commanders revealed plans to increase the UK’s military capability in the region, which are awaiting a green light from Downing Street.

Mr Shapps asked Lt Gen Charlie Strickland, Chief Joint Operations at the Permanent Joint Headquarters (PJHQ) in Northwood, to convey his “thanks to all the members of the Armed Forces involved in the operations in the Red Sea against Houthi targets on Thursday night”.

He saved special mention for the four Typhoon fighter jets pilots based in Cyprus who flew for eight hour to deliver Paveway IV laser-guided bombs on Iranian-backed Houthi militant sites in a joint operation with the US.

More than 100 precision-guided bombs and missiles were used to attack 60 targets ranging from radar systems, drone storage and launch sites to missile storage and launch facilities and command and control nodes.

“The operation was conducted with the dedication and skill that are the hallmark of the Royal Air Force,” said Mr Shapps.

“I am grateful to all those supporting this operation by air, sea, and land – including our civil servants and diplomats – who made the operation a great success. Your professionalism is noted by the whole nation with pride.”

He said that the “proportional action” followed “the unprecedented attack against HMS Diamond and allied forces on 9 January, and as a result of continued illegal, dangerous, and destabilising Houthi attacks risking lives at sea and threatening freedom of navigation and flow of trade”.

He added: “The past days have showcased the sense of purpose, strength, and expertise across Defence.”

“As we start 2024 in a more challenging and dangerous world, we will need to draw on this even more. I have total trust that Defence will rise to the task.”

“My thanks and congratulations to you all.”

Last week’s strikes carried real risk, sources have admitted, such as the downing of a Typhoon by air defence missiles or a pilot ejecting due to an engine failure.

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Special Forces soldiers – who are also tasked with using submersibles to down Houthi vessels – had been pre-positioned in Saudi Arabia ready to fly in by Chinook helicopter and mount a combat search and rescue operation if a plane crashed in the desert. They were boosted by a specialist US Marine Corps recovery team aboard the carrier USS Eisenhower.

Last night commanders disclosed plans to ramp up the UK’s military capability in the Red Sea.

They come as Hussein al-Ezzi, the rebels’ deputy foreign minister, warned that the US and Britain would “have to prepare to pay a heavy price” for its military actions.

Yesterday the American destroyer USS Carney fired additional Tomahawk missiles at a radar site in Yemen, following another Houthi drone strike which failed to hit its target.

In Britain, senior officers at PJHQ have drawn up further plans including the deployment of RAF RC-135 surveillance aircraft, already in the Mediterranean, which can monitor naval activity in Yemen and alert warships to the threat before the Houthis systems get over the Red Sea.

Reaper drones, which can use long range cameras to locate Houthi missile bases before deploying Hellfire missiles systems to destroy them, are also being readied.

Britain has a Reaper base in Kuwait which will most likely be used, though the US could give permission to use its base in Djibouti, too.

Other potential moves include the deployment of a Merlin helicopter equipped with Crowsnest airborne surveillance.

The specially-equipped helicopters are usually deployed on carriers and carry a radar suite which can provide long range “over-the-horizon” reconnaissance.

Because the size of its radar means it cannot fit a frigate and it is likely to be based in Djibouti.

“In itself, deploying Crownest isn’t an escalation,” said a senior Whitehall source last night. “But Merlins aren’t Typhoons, and exposing one in harm’s way insures extra risks which need to be considered carefully.”

HMS Diamond is said to be keen to take an opportunity to replenish its stock of Sea Viper missiles.

The Type 45 destroyer is fitted with an advanced Sampson radar system which can spot a target 450 miles away and track 1000 objects the size a cricket ball moving at three times the speed of sound.

The system – so secret only six sailors on board have access to it – has been an important asset to the US-led multinational task force.

Its captain, Commander Peter Evans, became the first naval commander to fire a shot in anger since the Libyan campaign 12 years ago when he fired five Sea Vipers to target Iran-sponsored drones a month ago.

His second action is thought to have involved six Sea vipers, when HMS Diamond joined US warships to down a barrage of 18 Houthi drones and three missiles.

Though HMS Diamond can carry 48 missiles, sources said it sailed with just 24.

It will be replaced by the HMS Richmond, a Type-23 frigate usually tasked with anti-submarine warfare duties.

Though Richmond does not possess dedicated anti-air capabilities, sources say its shorter range Sea Ceptor missiles can still pack a mighty punch.

The deployment of one of the Royal Navy’s two carriers also remains a possibility.

Last night Royal Navy sources rejected claims that staffing issues were preventing HMS Elizabeth from joining the fray.

But they highlighted a reluctance by the FCDO, fearful that it would send an escalatory message and keen not to jeopardise next year’s planned sailing by the Carrier Strike Group to the Indian Ocean, stopping off in India.

Around 15 percent of the world’s sea cargo passes through the Red Sea to access the Suez Canal, including 8 percent of global grain trade, 12 percent of seaborne-traded oil and 8 percent of the world’s liquefied natural gas.

Houthi rebels – who are embroiled in a war against the Yemeni government and committed to `”destroying the United State”s – back Iran and say they will continue to attack shipping until Israel stops its offensive in Gaza.

An MoD source said: “The Defence Secretary knows that the armed forces work tirelessly to prepare. But it’s important to remember these men and women are going into hostile territory against people who have shown a callous disregard for human life and the international order.”

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