Italian to lead EU’s Aspides mission joining US response to Houthis in Red Sea, reports say
Stars and Stripes February 5, 2024
NAPLES, Italy — A European Union mission that would coordinate with U.S. military efforts to protect commercial ships in the Red Sea from attack by Islamic militants will be under the command of an Italian admiral, according to media reports.
Italy also is considering sending surveillance aircraft in addition to the frigate ITS Frederico Martinengo as part of the EU mission, which is called Aspides and is expected to be launched by Feb. 19, Reuters reported Friday. The admiral who would take command of the mission wasn’t named publicly.
Martinengo would relieve the Italian frigate ITS Virginio Fasan, already on duty in the region since December.
At least seven European countries, including France and Germany, have agreed to send warships or aircraft or make other contributions to the EU mission, which would coordinate with the U.S.-led Operation Prosperity Guardian against Yemen’s Houthi militants.
But while Aspides would protect ships and intercept Houthi attacks, it would not take part in military strikes on the group in Yemen, EU officials have said.
The U.S. has been launching retaliatory strikes in the past few weeks against the Houthis, who are backed by Iran.
On Saturday, American and British forces attacked 36 Houthi sites at 13 locations in Yemen, targeting underground storage facilities, missile systems, drone storage and operations sites, radars and helicopters, U.S. Central Command said in a statement Sunday.
It was the largest strike against the Houthis since a similar joint operation Jan. 11 to degrade the group’s capabilities, Stars and Stripes reported Jan. 12.
On Sunday, the U.S. struck a Houthi land-attack cruise missile and four anti-ship cruise missiles preparing to launch in what U.S. Central Command described in a statement Monday as a defensive measure.
Greece is expected to take overall command of Aspides, to which EU states gave initial backing last month. Command headquarters would be in the city of Larissa, although Greek leadership of the operation had not been formally announced, Reuters reported Friday.
For months, the Houthis have waged attacks on commercial vessels in the Red Sea, saying that they are acting in response to Western support for Israel in its war against Hamas.
Worsening of the situation in the Red Sea could threaten security in the Mediterranean Sea and hurt Italy’s economic stability, Defense Minister Guido Crosetto told Italian lawmakers Thursday, Reuters reported the same day.
Italy would become a Houthi target as well if it participated in attacks against the group, one of its leaders, Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, recently told the Italian newspaper la Repubblica.