The Pentagon has launched an investigation into alleged Saudi transfers of US military hardware, from rifles to armored vehicles and tanks, to the hands of Islamist radical groups in Yemen.
Some of the hardware, which was transferred in contravention of legally binding commitments to obtain US permission before doing so, has even ended up in the hands of Iran-allied Houthi militias, opening up the possibility that Iran could study sensitive American military technology and ultimately endanger US forces elsewhere in the region.
The revelation came in an exclusive report Monday by CNN, which sent undercover reporters into Yemeni towns to find the weapons.
In one weapons shop in Taiz, a city in the country’s southwest, a dealer confirmed to CNN that he had US weapons, saying they’re “expensive and sought after.”
The “not-so-hidden black market” is helping to drive “the demand for hi-tech American weapons and perpetuating the cycle of violence in Yemen,” the report said.
Some of the weapons systems have made their way to the Yemeni affiliate of al-Qaeda, known as al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which has fought in the Taiz area and once paraded US-made Oshkosh armored vehicles through the city’s streets. Today the group, labeled a terror organization by the US, fights as part of the Saudi-backed Yemeni army.
Other systems, such as the MRAP, or Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected, armored vehicles, were found in the port city of Hodeida in the hands of a radical Salafist group known as the Giants Brigade.
The vehicles were built by Navistar and sold in 2014 to Abu Dhabi, where they were incorporated into the United Arab Emirates armed forces, which transferred them to factions in the Yemeni war, according to the report.
Reached by CNN, an unnamed senior UAE official denied “in no uncertain terms that we are in violation of end-user agreements in any manner.”
He insisted the Giants Brigade was “part of Yemeni forces,” and its possession of the MRAP vehicles amounted to “collective possession” of the UAE-backed coalition.
But Pentagon spokesman Johnny Michael told CNN “the United States has not authorized the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates to re-transfer any equipment to parties inside Yemen.”
He added: “The US government cannot comment on any pending investigations of claims of end-use violations of defense articles and services transferred to our allies and partners.”
MRAPs are a vital part of the US military’s efforts to protect American soldiers from roadside bombs, also known as improvised explosive devices (IEDs), which are responsible for most combat deaths each year.
“It is critical that knowledge of MRAP vulnerabilities does not fall into enemy hands,” CNN said, adding, “it’s already too late.”
“In September 2017, a Houthi-run TV channel broadcast images of Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, the de facto rebel leader, proudly sitting behind the wheel of a captured US-made MRAP in the capital Sanaa, as a crowd chanted ‘death to America’ in the background,” the network reported.
It claimed to have evidence of at least one more MRAP falling into Houthi — and thus Iranian — hands last year.
A Houthi intelligence official in Sanaa who spoke to CNN on condition of anonymity said Iranian and Hezbollah officials had already taken possession of the US-made vehicles, as well as other weapons systems, and “are assessing US military technology very closely.”
He insisted “there isn’t a single American weapon that they don’t try to find out its details, what it’s made of, how it works.”