WASHINGTON — U.S. and allied forces have intercepted more than 170 tons of explosive material, one million rounds of small arms ammunition and thousands of assault rifles from Iran in just the last 10 months, and now some of the confiscated munitions are being sent to Ukraine, according to Naval Forces Central Command.
The figures, provided to Defense News by NAVCENT, illustrate the results of the Navy’s increased focus on disrupting Iranian smuggling in the region.
In September 2021, the U.S. 5th Fleet launched Task Force 59, which allowed it to more easily identify potential illegal activities and further investigate with manned vessels. The following April, the Navy stood up a combined task force — CTF 153 — that integrates the work of multiple nations monitoring the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden.
Together, these efforts have created a tighter web to catch smuggling, a priority for Vice Adm. Brad Cooper, the 5th Fleet commander. Much of Iran’s lethal aid has been in route to Houthi rebels fighting in Yemen.
Since last November, NAVCENT has seized the following weapons and munitions from Iran:
- 8 Nov 2022 – More than 70 tons of ammonium perchlorate and more than 100 tons of urea fertilizer, which can be used to make explosives.
- 1 Dec 2022 – 50 tons of ammunition rounds, along with fuses and rocket propellants; more than one million rounds of 7.62mm ammunition; 25,000 rounds of 12.7mm ammunition; just under 7,000 proximity fuses for rockets; and more than 2,100 kilograms of propellant used to launch rocket propelled grenades.
- 6 Jan 2023 – 2,116 AK-47 assault rifles
In addition, U.S. partners seized 3,000 assault rifles, 578,000 ammunition rounds, more than 23 anti-tank guided missiles and “medium-range ballistic missile components” from Iran in January and February, according to NAVCENT.
This week, U.S. Central Command announced it had transferred more than one million of the 7.62mm seized rounds to Ukraine. The administration obtained control of that ammunition after the Department of Justice filed a forfeiture motion this March. This July, the DoJ filed a similar motion to forfeit thousands of rifles, hundreds of machine guns and rocket launchers and around 700,000 rounds of ammunition also intercepted from Iran.
While Pentagon spokespeople stressed the timing of the transfer is coincidental to the political environment, further aid to Ukraine faces uncertain prospects. The House of Representatives voted heavily for an additional $300 million in assistance last month, but for the first time, a majority of Republicans in the chamber opposed it. A vacant speakership in the House will make additional funding even tougher.
“I wouldn’t be surprised that additional aid packages get passed, but it is becoming more difficult,” said Seth Jones, who leads the international security program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank.
Such difficulty, said Jones, means the Pentagon may have to think creatively about how to continue supplying Ukraine, perhaps relying more on allies and partners replacing old stocks.
Meanwhile, the Defense Department says it still has $5.4 billion left to draw down its own stocks for Ukraine, but only $1.6 billion is left to replenish them.
“We need Congress to act to ensure there is no disruption in our support, especially as the department seeks to replenish our stocks,” Pentagon spokesperson Sabrina Singh said at a briefing.
Noah Robertson is the Pentagon reporter at Defense News. He previously covered national security for the Christian Science Monitor. He holds a bachelor’s degree in English and government from the College of William & Mary in his hometown of Williamsburg, Virginia.