News Analysis

US gives Ukraine ammunition seized from Iranian smugglers

The Navy seized more than one million rounds of Iranian ammo aimed for the Houthi rebels in Yemen.
Patty Nieberg Avatar
Seized rifles on a ship.
The US Navy has seized weapons through smuggling interdictions including Iranian ammo sent to Houthi rebels in Yemen. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Elisha Smith

The US sent more than one million rounds of ammunition to Ukraine this week that the US Navy had previously seized from Iranian smuggling operations. News of the transfer comes as the Pentagon boosts its artillery production to continue supporting the Ukranians and refill its own stockpiles.

The munitions transfer of 1.1 million 7.62mm rounds of ammo — the caliber of bullet used by AK-47-style rifles common in Ukraine — was announced by US Central Command in a release Wednesday. The haul adds to the more than $44 billion in US weapons and military aid sent to Ukraine in its war with Russia. 

Much of that aide has come from Pentagon stocks, which the department is scrambling to refill. Defense officials say they are working with defense contractors to increase the amount of artillery rounds produced domestically and abroad to refill munitions stockpiles. In September, the US announced plans to produce more than 100,000 artillery shells per month by 2025.

The munitions were transferred to Ukrainian armed forces on Monday.

The munitions were seized from a stateless sailing vessel called MARWAN 1 on Dec. 9, 2022 while they were being shipped from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to the Houthis in Yemen. The Houthi are a rebel faction fighting in Yemen which took control of the nation’s capital in 2014. The US has supported Saudi-led actions against the Houthi, which are seen as backed by Iran.

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The US seized the ammo citing its transfer by Iran as a violation of a United Nations Security Council resolution. 

The US government obtained ownership of the munitions on July 20 through the Department of Justice’s civil forfeiture claims against Iran’s military.

The seizure came as part of a US investigation of a maritime smuggling network set up by Iran in support of Houthi military action in Yemen and terrorist activities throughout the region, according to DOJ forfeiture documents.

A security team from the USS Lewis B. Puller boarded the MARWAN 1 and found a crew of 11 Somalis, a Kenyan and a Pakistani. An investigation found that Iranian Navy sailors had boarded the MARWAN 1 in mid-November 2022 as the ship sailed off the coast of Iran and concealed ammunition and explosives among its cargo of fruit and soft drinks.

The US Navy also seized 24,000 rounds of 12.7mm x 99mm ammunition, 6,960 proximity fuses for rocket-propelled grenades and 2,000 kg of grenade propellant, according to the DOJ.

In September, a senior Houthi delegation traveled to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia as the first official visit since the war, according to White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan.

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