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US Navy seizes load of rifles smuggled from Iran to Yemen

Navy officials say the sea drones deployed by the Fifth Fleet's experimental Task Force 59 are contributing to their ability to monitor Middle Eastern waterways, but won't credit the units with enabling any specific seizures just yet.
A picture taken during a guided tour by the US Navy shows a US Navy patrol boat that took journalists on board at an Emirati naval facility near the port of the Gulf emirate of Fujairah to show them an oil tanker that was attacked last week in the Gulf of Oman, June 19, 2019.

The US Navy seized a shipment of 2,116 AK-47 assault rifles smuggled aboard a fishing vessel in the Gulf of Oman on Friday.

The crew of the coastal patrol ship USS Chinook discovered and seized the cache along a maritime route typically used for trafficking weapons from Iran to Yemen’s Houthi rebels, the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet said in a statement on Tuesday. The USS Monsoon and guided missile destroyer USS The Sullivans provided support during the boarding and search.

The US Navy said six Yemeni nationals were found to have crewed the fishing vessel. It remains unclear what became of them, though the United States has typically handed over Yemeni smugglers to the Yemeni government in the past.

Why it matters: The capture is part of an uptick in seizures by the United States in Middle Eastern waters over the past year.

On Dec. 1, the crew of the USS Lewis B. Puller discovered more than 50 tons of ammunition, rocket fuses and propellant aboard a fishing trawler bound for Yemen.

In November, a Navy destroyer and two US Coast Guard ships intercepted a shipment of more than 70 tons of aluminum perchlorate, a chemical commonly used to make rocket fuel. The haul contained enough material to power more than a dozen medium-range ballistic missiles, Fifth Fleet commander Vice Adm. Brad Cooper said at the time.

Cooper on Tuesday called the latest seized shipment “part of a continued pattern of destabilizing activity from Iran.”

“These threats have our attention. We remain vigilant in detecting any maritime activity that impedes freedom of navigation or compromises regional security,” he said.

Shipments of arms to the Houthis violates the United Nations arms embargo enshrined in Security Council Resolution 2216 of 2015.

What’s next: Cooper, who commands all US naval forces in the Middle East, is scheduled to make an announcement on the latest progress made by the Fifth Fleet’s experimental Task Force 59 at the Surface Navy Symposium in Arlington on Tuesday. Stay tuned for further coverage.

Know More: The unmanned sea drones deployed by Task Force 59 are directly contributing to the Navy’s surveillance of Middle Eastern waterways, US officials say, by snapping images of vessels along known smuggling routes and areas of activity by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Since October 2021, the experimental unit’s drones have clocked a combined 30,000 hours of operation, Fifth Fleet spokesperson Cmdr. Timothy Hawkins told Al-Monitor.

Read Jared Szuba’s story on how the task force fits into the Pentagon’s newest approach to deterring Iran.

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