WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. has transferred to Ukraine 1.1 million rounds of small arms ammunition that it seized from Iran, U.S. Central Command said Wednesday.
The much-needed ammunition has been sent at a time when continued U.S. financial support for Kyiv’s fight to defend itself remains in question.
And while Ukraine will use the 7.62 mm ammunition seized from Iran in its fight against Russia, Iran has been supplying Russia with the Shahed 136 drones that its forces have used in Ukraine against both civilian and military targets.
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 rounds were 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 Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to support the Houthis in Yemen’s civil war in violation of a U.N. Security Council resolution.
A fragile cease-fire is in place after the almost decadelong war, but Iran has continued to supply the Houthis with lethal aid, Lt. Gen. Alexus G. Grynkewich, head of U.S. Air Forces Central, told reporters on Wednesday. He said this was a major threat to Yemen finding a durable peace.
U.S. Central Command said the U.S. “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.”
The U.S. Navy’s Mideast-based 5th Fleet and its allies have intercepted numerous ships believed to be transporting weapons and ammunition from Iran and heading to Yemen in support of the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels.
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 U.N. 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 U.S. has already sent to Ukraine since Russia invaded in February 2022, much of which has already been used in the intense ground battle.
The U.S. 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 U.S. 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 hard-liners, who have opposed sending more money to Ukraine.