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Statement from Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III on Ensuring Freedom of Navigation in the Red Sea
4 MINUTE READ
December 21, 2023

 

IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Dec. 19, 2023

 

Pentagon Press Secretary Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder provided the following readout:

During his trip to the Middle East, Secretary Austin convened a virtual ministerial with Ministers, Chiefs of Defense, and senior representatives from 43 countries, as well as the European Union and NATO, to discuss the increased threat to maritime security in the Red Sea. Secretary Austin reaffirmed U.S. commitment to freedom of navigation and the free flow of commerce in the region’s critical waterways and outlined the ways Houthi attacks are destabilizing maritime security. Secretary Austin underscored that attacks had already impacted the global economy and would continue to threaten commercial shipping if the international community did not come together to address the issue collectively. Secretary Austin condemned Houthi attacks on international shipping and global commerce as unprecedented and unacceptable, noting the attacks threaten the free flow of commerce and endanger innocent mariners.

The Secretary and senior Department of Defense leadership, including the Commander of U.S. Central Command, General Kurilla, and the Commander of U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, Vice Admiral Cooper, briefed participants that the Houthis had conducted over 100 one-way uncrewed aerial systems (UAS) and ballistic missile attacks, targeting 10 merchant vessels involving more than 35 different nations. They highlighted that the Houthis had taken the Merchant Vessel GALAXY LEADER and its 25-member international crew hostage on November 19; the crew remain unjustly detained in Yemen. Participants discussed how the attacks are a flagrant violation of international law, and the Houthis must cease their aggressive actions. Currently, 10-15% of global trade passes through the Red Sea, and international shipping companies are having to reroute through the Cape of Good Hope, adding weeks to the delivery of key goods and materials, including oil and gas.

To address this unprecedented series of attacks, the Secretary urged participants to join U.S.-led and other international initiatives and work with U.S. Naval Forces Central Command (USNAVCENT) and the 39-member Combined Maritime Forces (CMF) to restore security in the Red Sea to deter future Houthi aggression. Secretary Austin pointed to CMF’s Task Force 153—charged with international maritime security and capacity-building in the Red Sea, Bab al-Mandeb, and the Gulf of Aden—as an existing multi-lateral platform that could be leveraged to deter attacks under the CMF. He reiterated that the international community is faced with an unprecedented global challenge that demands collective action. The United States will continue to consult and work alongside allies and partners, who share the fundamental principle of freedom of navigation.