Seized thousands of Kalashnikov-style rifles, rocket-propelled grenade launchers and more.
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – The US Navy has seized a large cache of weapons being smuggled off the coast of Somalia by two small ships, it announced on Tuesday, amid the Peace War in nearby Yemen.
Thousands of Kalashnikov-style rifles, light machine guns, heavy sniper rifles, rocket-propelled grenade launchers and crew-operated weapons were among the weapons seized by the USS Winston S. Churchill, a guided-missile destroyer in the Indian Ocean last week. .
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In its statement, the Navy’s Bahrain-based 5th Fleet did not identify the source of the smuggled weapons nor reveal its destination. But an American defense official who spoke on condition of anonymity, as he was not authorized to discuss the details of the seizure, said some signs were “weapons” that were bound for war-torn Yemen across the Gulf of Aden . The investigation continued, officials said.
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Over the course of two days, the destroyer halted and searched two vessels for illegal cargo as part of the Navy’s regular maritime security patrols in the area. It was on ships that were abandoned after the operation.
A small boat left by the Navy appears to show American sailors inspecting an intercepted Dhose, a traditional ship that usually sweeps the waters of the Persian Gulf region, as helicopters orbit overhead Huh. A sample of the weaponry, Contraband’s photographs showed what appeared in a pile of new Kalashnikov plastic and rocket-propelled grenade launchers.
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“These operations prevented nefarious actors from illegally spreading their lethal aid,” said Cmdr. Churchill’s Commanding Officer Timothy Shenley.
A raft of weapons aboard the Dhaos showed other shipments from the US and allied forces in the region, later heading to Yemen, where the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels battled the Saudi-led military alliance for control of the country. Since 2015 Yemen has been waking up with small arms that have been smuggled into poorly controlled ports over the years of conflict.
Analysts say the pattern of shipments matches previous examples of suspected Iranian smuggling in Yemen. Last June, for example, Saudi naval forces seized a detachment carrying anti-tank missiles and believed to have thousands of Assault rifles manufactured in Iran. According to a recent report by the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime, they were on their way to Yemen through a network of smuggling in Somalia.
The seized weapons expert, Tim Micheti, revealed on Tuesday, “The unique mix of materials corresponds to a number of contradictions over the years, which are certainly linked to Iran.”
“Similar co-mating of goods recovered from Iran-aligned groups in the region,” he said, “provides a strong sign of relocation.”
Experts from Arab countries, the West and the United Nations allege that Iran has armed the Houthis with everything from assault rifles to ballistic missiles, despite Tehran’s long refusal Evidence to the contrary. The 5th Fleet has repeatedly accused Iran of smuggling weapons through the Arabian Sea to the Houthis, which keep the capital of Yemen, Sana’a, and much more to the north of the country.
Iran’s mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the interception.
The interconnection in Yemen and in the wider region comes at a delicate time. Houthi forces have pushed aggressively into Marib, Yemen’s last remaining government stronghold, in recent weeks. Tensions are growing between Iran and the US over the 2015 nuclear deal that sought to limit Iran’s uranium enrichment in return for sanctions relief.
Associated Press writer John Gambrel contributed to this report.