In a move to disrupt illicit arms trafficking, the United States has handed over a small arms arsenal intercepted from vessels bound for Yemen to Ukrainian military forces, strengthening their defence capabilities amidst the ongoing conflict with Russia.

Intercepted en route from Iran to Yemen, the arms—comprising over 5,000 AK-47s, machine guns, sniper rifles, and RPG-7s, along with more than 500,000 rounds of 7.62mm ammunition—were seized by US Central Command and partner naval forces from four unmarked vessels in the Arabian Sea.

This delivery comes as a boost to Ukraine’s defence capabilities, providing support in their ongoing conflict with Russia, which remains engaged in an invasion of Ukrainian territory.

Attorney General Merrick Garland emphasised the dual purpose of the transfer, stating: “With this weapons transfer, the United States government is both disrupting Iran’s destabilising efforts and supporting Ukraine’s fight against Russia’s brutal, unprovoked invasion.”

The operation, initiated by the Department of Justice, saw a civil forfeiture action filed against the seized munitions, resulting in a court order transferring title to the United States before ultimately being transferred to Ukraine. Assistant Attorney General for National Security Matthew G. Olsen underscored the broader implications of the move, stating, “As we see Russia and Iran engaging in conduct to undermine global security, the Department of Justice is taking deadly weapons out of the hands of terrorists and putting them into the hands of Ukrainians defending their homeland.”

The weapons cache is primarily of Iranian, Chinese, or Russian origin. The successful interdiction follows previous actions targeting illicit arms trafficking orchestrated by sanctioned Iranian entities, which directly support military action by the Houthi movement in Yemen and broader terrorist activities throughout the Middle East.

In recent developments across the Middle East, the United States has undertaken a series of actions aimed at curbing Iran’s influence and disrupting its illicit weapons proliferation networks, beginning with a precision strike on an Iranian-affiliated weapons facility in Eastern Syria in response to attacks on US personnel in Iraq and Syria. 

Subsequently, the US imposed sanctions on a network spanning multiple countries, including Iran, Malaysia, Hong Kong, and Indonesia, targeting entities aiding Iran’s unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) development. Furthermore, the US Department of the Treasury revealed sanctions against a network of suppliers facilitating Iran’s development of ballistic missiles and UAVs. 

Concurrently, a US Coast Guard cutter intercepted an Iranian weapons shipment bound for Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen.