Biden shrugs off potential need for Congressional approval for more Houthi strikes

A day after the first US-UK strikes on Yemen’s Houthis in late January, President Joe Biden sent a letter to Congress explaining why it was necessary to carry out such operations.

In less than five days, under the War Powers Resolution, Biden may need Congressional authorization for the US military to continue targeting Houthi capabilities inside Yemen as well as for the ability to keep downing Houthi drones, rockets and missiles aimed at commercial and military vessels in the Red Sea.

This was reaffirmed after senior US lawmakers said the president needed authorization to continue ordering strikes in Yemen.

The 1973 War Powers Resolution was passed to ensure that Congress played a key role in declaring war.

Sixty days after a president submits a report to Congress, he must stop using the military in operations outlined in the letter to Congress unless they have declared war or enacted a specific authorization for the use of the US military.

Another two options could be to have the law extended by another 60 days or continuing the military operations if an attack on the US prevents the ability of lawmakers and the US president to physically meet.

Nevertheless, on several occasions, since the Iran-backed Houthis started attacking ships in the Red Sea as well as US military assets in the region, the US has responded in self-defense.

Pentagon officials have said the US military retains the inherent right to self-defense and that commanders on the ground often make these decisions.

In a recent press briefing, Pentagon Press Secretary Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder alluded to Article 2 of the US Constitution, which stipulates that the president can order military action for self-defense without Congressional approval.

A day before the Jan. 11 attack, the UN Security Council adopted a resolution that demanded the Houthis halt their attacks on merchant and commercial shipping. The resolution included language that international law allowed member states to take action to defend their vessels from attacks as well as against attacks that undermine navigational rights and freedoms.

Bipartisan calls for Biden to engage with Congress

Speaking at a Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee hearing on Yemen on Feb. 27, Democratic Senator Chris Murphy said the Constitution required Congress to authorize acts of war. “If we believe this is a just military action and I do, then we should authorize it,” Murphy said.

Despite previously being one of the main opponents of the US involvement in the Yemen war, Murphy has changed his stance.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair Senator Ben Cardin, also a Democrat, echoed Murphy on the need for Biden to seek Congressional authorization.

However, Republican lawmakers have also pushed for Biden to get support or approval from Congress. During the same hearing, Senator Todd Young questioned if the Biden administration had an actual plan or goal in repeatedly striking the Houthis.

A spokesman for Senator Young said their office asked Biden to explain his thinking but had yet to hear back.

US officials have said that they will continue military strikes against the Yemeni group until they halt their attacks in the Red Sea. The Houthis have said they will stop once a ceasefire in Gaza is reached.

The Houthis struck a US-owned bulk carrier last month, which sunk last weekend and US officials said the sunken ship damaged underwater internet cables in the Red Sea.

Another Houthi strike this week killed at least three civilian sailors onboard a merchant ship in the Red Sea. The Houthis claimed responsibility for the attack on the Greek-owned, Barbados-flagged ship True Confidence. Other sailors were wounded in the attack.

No retaliatory strikes had been conducted at the time of publication of this article.

The US strikes, most of which have been unilateral, have so far failed to deter the Houthis from attacking ships they claim have links to the US or Israel. US officials say they are unable to determine how much capability the group has inside of Yemen.

Lawmakers and critics of Biden’s Houthi policy are concerned that there is no plan or endgame for the Houthis. They are also concerned with the cost being incurred on American taxpayers for carrying out these strikes on relatively inexpensive rockets, drones and missiles with millions of dollars in American weapons.

During a Thursday Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, the United States Central Command (CENTCOM) chief, Gen. Erik Kurilla, said the military was looking at using more directed energy for these types of operations.

Kurilla told lawmakers that directed energy would cost around $1-2 per round. Missiles being used by the US now run between $1 to $2 million to shoot down Iranian-made Houthi drones that reports suggest could cost anywhere between $2,000 to $20,000 per system.

“I would love to have the Navy produce more directed energy that can be able to shoot down a drone, so they don’t have to use an expensive missile shoot it down. But what’s worse than not having that expensive missile shoot it down is hitting that $2 billion ship with 300 sailors on it,” Kurilla said.

As late as Thursday night, the US had conducted self-defense strikes against four mobile Houthi anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCM) and one Houthi unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) inside of Yemen. During the same timeframe, US forces shot down three Houthi UAVs launched from Yemen toward the Gulf of Aden.

“These actions are taken to protect freedom of navigation and make international waters safer and more secure for US Navy and merchant vessels,” CENTCOM said.

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