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Yemen’s rebels criticise new, US-led task force

AP – Yemen’s Houthis criticised a new United States (US)-led task force that will patrol the Red Sea following a series of attacks by the Iran-backed rebels in a waterway that’s essential to global trade.

The Houthis’ chief negotiator and spokesman Mohammed Abdul-Salam said on Friday that the US move in the Red Sea, which comes amid a cease-fire in the country’s civil war, contradicts Washington’s claim of supporting the United Nations (UN)-brokered truce.

The task force “enshrines the aggression and blockade on Yemen”, he claimed on his Telegram social media account.

Abdul-Salam apparently referred to a coalition the rebels have been fighting for years.

The coalition, which until recently was backed by the US, imposes an air and sea blockade on Houthi-held areas.

Another Houthi leader, Daifallah al-Shami, also criticised the US-led task force, saying it sends negative signals and “gives a darker reading to the truce”, according to the rebels’ media office. He also did not elaborate.

The new task force of two to eight ships patrolling at a time will be commissioned Sunday and aims to target those smuggling coal, drugs, weapons and people in the Red Sea, according to Vice Admiral Brad Cooper, who oversees the US Navy’s Mideast-based 5th Fleet.

The USS Mount Whitney, a Blue Ridge class amphibious command ship previously part of the Navy’s African and European 6th Fleet, will join the task force, Cooper said.

The Red Sea runs from Egypt’s Suez Canal in the north down through the narrow Bab el-Mandeb Strait in the south that separates Africa from the Arabian Peninsula.

Coal smuggling through the Red Sea has been used by Somalia’s Al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabab militant group to fund attacks.