SOTU Fact Check: Biden Brags About Houthi Airstrikes that He Admitted Do Not Work

Claim: President Joe Biden boasted in Thursday’s State of the Union address that he ordered airstrikes in Yemen “to degrade Houthi capabilities.”

Verdict: Mostly false — Biden did order the airstrikes but openly admitted to reporters that they did not work to prevent Houthi attacks.

During his address on Thursday night to a joint session of Congress — potentially his last as president following the 2024 election — Biden briefly touched on the ongoing campaign by the Houthis, an Iran-backed Shiite terrorist organization formally known as Ansar Allah and based in Yemen, to disrupt global commercial shipping by bombing random vessels navigating in and around the Red Sea.

The Houthis have controlled the capital of Yemen, Sana’a, since 2014 when they invaded the capital and launched a civil war against the nation’s legitimate government, which was relegated to the southern port city of Aden where it remains today.

The Houthis began attacking ships, seemingly at random, following their declaration of war against Israel in October, a gesture of support for the fellow Iran-backed jihadist group Hamas and its October 7 siege of Israel. Houthi leaders insisted at first that they would only attack ships with ties to Israel, then expanded their alleged targets to British and American vessels in response to airstrikes. The Houthis have not restrained their attacks, at various points throughout the year bombing ships with links to allies such as Russia, China, and Iran. Houthi attacks have resulted in skyrocketing insurance rates for shipping companies and a mass redirection of ship traffic away from the Middle East and around the Cape of Good Hope in Africa.

After a segment of his speech promoting the creation of a state of Palestine, one of Hamas’s top goals, Biden turned to address the shipping crisis created by the Houthis.

Houthi Gulf of Aden

The crew aboard a Marshall Islands-flagged tanker hit by a missile launched by Yemen’s Houthi rebels is battling a fire onboard the stricken vessel sparked by the strike in January 2024. (Indian Navy via AP)

“Creating stability in the Middle East also means containing the threat posed by Iran. That’s why I built a coalition of more than a dozen countries to defend international shipping and freedom of navigation in the Red Sea,” Biden said. “I’ve ordered strikes to degrade the Houthi capabilities and defend U.S. Forces in the region.”

“As Commander in Chief, I will not hesitate to direct further measures to protect our people and military personnel,” he promised.

The “coalition” that Biden claims to have built is “Operation Prosperity Guardian,” an initiative announced in December in which a group of countries, many of which chose to remain anonymous, are allegedly cooperating to protect ship traffic in the Red Sea region. “Operation Prosperity Guardian” has done little to deter Houthi attacks. Notably absent from the list of publicly known members of the initiative was Israel itself, the top target of the Houthi campaign, and major regional powers such as Saudi Arabia.

The airstrikes, conducted most often alongside the United Kingdom, are often specified not to be part of “Operation Prosperity Guardian.” Biden himself has also specified that the airstrikes have made no difference in protecting regional shipping.

On January 18, journalists asked Biden if the airstrikes were working.

“Well, when you say ‘working,’ are they stopping the Houthis? No. Are they going to continue? Yes,” Biden responded.

The Houthis conducted their first fatal attacks of the post-October 7 campaign the day before the State of the Union address, killing three civilian mariners with a ballistic missile strike on the MV True Confidence, a Barbados-flagged, Liberian-owned merchant ship.

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.


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