The US Navy announced on Tuesday that its guided-missile destroyer, the USS Winston S. Churchill, had seized illegal shipments of weapons from two small ships while sailing in international waters off the coast of Somalia.
The navy disclosed in a statement that the operation took place last week, indicating that the weapons seized: “Consisted of thousands of AK-47 assault rifles, light machine guns, heavy sniper rifles, rocket-propelled grenade launchers and crew-served weapons. Other weapon components included barrels, stocks, optical scopes and weapon systems.”
The statement did not issue details on the source or destination of the weapons. However, a US defence official who spoke on condition of anonymity confirmed that there were “indications” that the weapons were destined for Yemen.
The official added that the authorities are continuing the investigation.
Last June, the Royal Saudi Navy confiscated a dhow carrying anti-tank missiles and thousands of assault rifles believed to have been manufactured in Iran, while on their way to Yemen via Somalia.
Expert on illicit arms flows Tim Michetti commented on the seizure, explaining: “The unique blend of material is consistent with multiple interdictions over the years that have been definitively linked back to Iran.”
“Co-mingled with items identical to those recovered from Iran-aligned groups in the region, the assortment provides a strong indication of a transfer’s provenance,” Michetti added.
The US Fifth Fleet has repeatedly accused Iran of smuggling weapons across the Arabian Sea to Yemeni Houthi rebels, who control the Yemeni capital and a large area north of the country.