U.S. Transfers Seized Iranian Guns to Ukraine

Confiscated Iranian-origin assault rifles on the deck of USS The Sullivans, January 2023 (USN)
Confiscated Iranian-origin assault rifles on the deck of USS The Sullivans, January 2023 (USN)

Published Apr 9, 2024 11:36 PM by The Maritime Executive


Once again, U.S. Central Command has delivered a cache of Iranian-made armaments to the government of Ukraine, turning a seized cargo into a small contribution to an American ally. 

On Thursday, U.S. forces transferred 5,000 assault rifles, plus machine guns, sniper rifles, RPG-7s and over 500,000 rounds of rifle ammunition to Ukraine. The guns are enough to equip one Ukrainian brigade, and the ammunition will be supplemented by other sources. (The U.S. previously transferred 1.1 million rounds of seized Iranian ammo to Ukraine in October.)

Over the past several years, the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Coast Guard have intercepted multiple shipments of Iranian arms on dhows bound for Yemen. Iran is the primary supporter of Yemen's Houthi rebel fraction, providing arms for its long-running civil war against the internationally-recognized Yemeni government and its Saudi and Emirati backers. Iran continues to support the Houthi movement, and it supplies the advanced anti-ship weaponry that Houthi fighters have been using to target Western shipping since November. 

Some of the guns transferred to Ukraine appear to have been seized in January 2023, when USS Chinook and USS The Sullivans intercepted and searched a Yemeni-crewed fishing vessel in the Gulf of Oman. 

Aboard the vessel were 2,116 Kalashnikov assault rifles. The models displayed by U.S. 5th Fleet were marked in Cyrillic "Made in Russia" and "AKS20U," the name of a relatively modern model. 

The government only took legal ownership of these arms in December 2023. Until that point, they belonged to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps - a U.S.-designated terrorist organization - while the Justice Department completed civil forfeiture proceedings.