US seizes 1.1 million bullets from Iran, sends them to Ukraine

American navy confiscates ammunition from ship headed to Yemen’s Houthi rebels in violation of UN ban, ships it to Ukrainian military as continued US aid is in question

FILE - A Ukrainian civil defense member holds a Kalashnikov assault rifle while patrolling in Kyiv, Ukraine, February 27, 2022. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky, File)
FILE - A Ukrainian civil defense member holds a Kalashnikov assault rifle while patrolling in Kyiv, Ukraine, February 27, 2022. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Russia has long turned to Iranian-made drones to attack Ukraine. Now Ukrainian forces will be using bullets seized from Iran against Russian troops.

A US Navy ship seized 1.1 million rounds of ammunition off of a vessel that was being used by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to arm Houthi rebels in Yemen’s civil war in violation of a UN Security Council resolution. The IRGC is a US-designated terrorist organization.

Those 7.62 mm rounds have now been transferred to Ukraine, US Central Command said Wednesday. The much-needed ammunition has been sent at a time when continued US financial support for Kyiv’s fight to defend itself remains in question.

The 7.62 mm ammunition is the standard round for Soviet-era Kalashnikov assault rifles and their many derivatives. Ukraine, as a former Soviet republic, still relies on the Kalashnikov for many of its units.

The US Navy’s Mideast-based 5th Fleet and its allies have intercepted numerous ships believed to be transporting weapons and ammunition from Iran to Yemen in support of the Iranian-backed Houthis. This is the first time that the seized weaponry has been handed over to Ukraine, Central Command spokeswoman Capt. Abigail Hammock said.

This shipment was seized by Central Command naval forces in December off of a vessel the command described as a “stateless dhow,” a traditional wooden sailing ship, that was being used by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to arm the Houthis.

A fragile ceasefire is in place in Yemen after the almost decade-long war, but Iran has continued to supply the Houthis with lethal aid, Lt. Gen. Alexus G. Grynkewich, head of US Air Forces Central, told reporters on Wednesday. He said this was a major threat to Yemen finding a durable peace.

Armed Houthi fighters attend the funeral procession of Houthi rebel fighters who were killed in fighting with forces of Yemen’s internationally recognized government, in Sanaa, Yemen, November 24, 2021. (AP Photo/Hani Mohammed)

US Central Command said the US “obtained ownership of these munitions on July 20, 2023, through the Department of Justice’s civil forfeiture claims against Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.”

A United Nations arms embargo has prohibited weapons transfers to the Houthis since 2014. Iran insists it adheres to the ban, even as it has long been transferring rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, missiles and other weaponry to the Houthis via the sea.

Independent experts, Western nations and UN experts have traced components seized aboard detained vessels back to Iran.

Iran’s mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.

Even though the shipment of more than 1 million rounds of small arms ammunition is substantial, it pales in comparison with the amount that the US has already sent to Ukraine since Russia invaded in February 2022, much of which has already been used in the intense ground battle.

The US has provided more than 300 million rounds of small arms ammunition and grenades as part of the almost $44 billion in military aid it has sent to help Ukraine.

Further US funding for Ukraine’s war was not included in a stopgap measure that prevented a government shutdown last weekend. With the ouster of Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, it was unclear whether the future leader will be able to generate enough support from the party’s hardliners, who have opposed sending more money to Ukraine.

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