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The Pentagon Misses the Mark When Explaining the Strike Against Houthi Targets

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American citizens deserve to know the full details when our armed forces are sent into action. It would be nice to get those details from our own Department of Defense.

COMMENTARY by Susan Katz Keating

Outdated, misleading photos and a low p.r. footprint: such is the Pentagon’s messaging about Thursday night’s major strike on Houthi targets in Yemen. The U.S. Department of Defense’s low key reports are in contrast to those from the British Ministry of Defence, which offered mission-specific photos, videos, and current news about the joint effort against the terrorist Houthis.

The U.S. and partner forces launched a series of strikes against military targets in Houthi-controlled sections of Yemen during the overnight hours of Jan. 11, according to American and British officials. The strikes were conducted by the U.S. and the U.K., with nonoperational support from Australia, Bahrain, Canada and the Netherlands. The partners said they attacked Houthi missile, radar and unmanned aerial vehicle sites, in retaliation for Houthi attacks on ships in the Red Sea. 

But, while the partners agree on what happened and why, they differ greatly on how they broke and spread the news – with the Pentagon on some platforms ignoring the incident entirely, and on others using outdated photographs without noting that the images do not depict the incident being described.

READ MORE about weapons that were used in the attack on Houthi targets

The attack occurred reportedly at 2:30 a.m. local time, or 6:30 p.m. on the east coast of the united states. Two hours later, the UK MInistry of Defense posted photos of the operation on Twitter.

The White House at 8:15 p.m. convened a background call with reporters, involving a senior administration official and a senior defense official. At around the same time, a statement attributed to the hospitalized Secretary of Defense, Lloyd Austin, appeared on the Pentagon website, describing the strike.

At first, the statement attributed to Austin did not appear on the main website, where it later was moved. 

The Pentagon on Friday published an article about the mission. Pentagon editors illustrated the article with photos of a missile strike, a deck scene, and below-deck scenes. The photos do not clearly and at first glance show that they do not depict the Thursday strike. One is from October 2023, according to a caption on the defense media website, DVIDS; another was during the day, when the Jan. 11 strike did not occur; and another was from Jan. 5.

The Department of Defense Facebook page does not mention the strikes at all, but on Friday posted a photo of Coast Guard personnel watching penguins on the ice in Antarctica.

On its X/Twitter feed, the DoD at around 10 a.m. posted the October 2023 missile strike photo. Other posts featured a National Guard captain, a science lab, the 2024 defense budget, and multinational water survival training.

British forces, meanwhile, posted Jan. 11 strike videos on social media, and published at least 12 web articles or videos explaining the mission, the targets, the weapons, the purpose, what it all means, and what to expect next.

Soldier of Fortune republished one British story describing the U.S. and U.K. weapons.

As for the Houthis, their leaders have posted the predictable barrage of threats, promising to retaliate, and circulating unverified images of anti-western protesters crowding the streets of Yemen.

In the wake of the not yet fully explained circumstances surrounding Lloyd Austin’s extended hospital stay, perhaps it is understandable that the Pentagon would be focused on things besides explaining a major military strike. American citizens, however, deserve to know the full details when our armed forces are sent into action. It would be nice to get those details from our own Department of Defense.

Susan Katz Keating is the publisher and editor in chief at Soldier of Fortune.

About Susan Katz Keating

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