By Debbie Gregory.
For the third time in two months, the U.S. Navy has seized an illicit shipment of arms, including machine guns and rocket-propelled grenade launchers, that officials said originated in Iran and were intended for rebels in Yemen.
Iran backs the Shiite Houthi rebels in Yemen, who are fighting the internationally recognized government, which is backed by a coalition led by Saudi Arabia, Iran’s chief rival in the region.
The USS Sirocco, a coastal patrol ship, along with the USS Gravely, a larger guided-missile destroyer, seized the weapons on March 28th from a small craft known as a dhow. The cache included some 1,500 Kalashnikov rifles, 200 rocket-propelled grenade launchers and 21 .50-caliber machine guns. The dhow and its crew were allowed to depart once the weapons were seized.
Retired Navy Adm. Jim Stavridis, who led a carrier strike group in the Persian Gulf at the start of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, said the Persian Gulf, Strait of Hormuz and northern Arabian Sea have been hotbeds of smuggling for many years.
“Our naval forces, and those of our partners, will continue to conduct maritime security operations in the region in order to disrupt the flow of illicit weapons to Houthi insurgents in Yemen,” said Cmdr. Kevin Stephens, a Navy spokesman in the Middle East. Earlier seizures included the Royal Australian Navy’s seizure of nearly 2,000 Kalashnikov rifles, 100 RPG launchers, 49 PKM machine guns, 39 PKM machine gun barrels and 20 60mm mortar tubes, and the French navy destroyer FS Provence’s seizure of approximately 2,000 Kalashnikov rifles, 64 Dragunov marksman rifles, and nine antitank missiles.
The ships are part of the Combined Maritime Forces led by Adm. Kevin Donegan, the commander of U.S. Naval Forces Central Command.