Washington (Agencies): US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin met with his British counterpart Grant Shapps at the Pentagon to discuss security threats in the Middle East.

The two leaders discussed “the escalating attacks by Iran-aligned militia groups on US troops in the Middle East” and “the illegal Houthi attacks on international shipping in the Red Sea,” as well as humanitarian assistance for Gaza and support for Ukraine, according to Pentagon spokesman Major General Pat Ryder.

Secretary Austin thanked Secretary Shapps for the United Kingdom’s steadfast support and leadership in coalition efforts to stave off further Houthi aggression, while defending naval and international commercial vessels exercising navigational rights and freedoms.

The two leaders also discussed joint strikes aimed at reducing the Houthis’ ability to target vessels transiting the key Red Sea trade route.

US and allied forces in Iraq, Syria, and Jordan have been attacked more than 165 times since mid-October, many of them claimed by a loose alliance of Iran-linked armed groups that opposes American support for Israel in the Gaza conflict and the presence of Washington’s troops in the region.

On Sunday, a drone struck a military base in northeastern Jordan, killing three US soldiers and wounding more than 40 — the first American military deaths in an attack in the Middle East since the start of the Israel-Hamas war in early October. Washington blamed Iran-backed militants for the attack, vowing a decisive response.

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