The US sent Ukraine 1 million seized Iranian AK-47 rounds that gunrunners tried to smuggle on an old fishing boat

Assault rifles and ammunition laid out on concete.
Seized assault rifles and ammunition.US Navy
  • The US seized Iranian ammunition from smugglers last year and has now sent it to Ukraine.

  • About 1.1 million rounds of 7.62mm ammo — for small arms — was delivered, the US military said.

  • Iran has long backed Russia in the war, outfitting Moscow with explosive drones and more.

The Pentagon has sent Ukraine more than 1 million rounds of Iranian small-arms ammunition that was seized from weapons smugglers last year, the US military disclosed on Wednesday.

The announcement comes at a crucial moment for Ukraine as questions loom over the future of security assistance from some of its Western military backers, including from Washington, which said this week that funding might be disrupted without support from Congress.

Iran has long supported Russia in the war and, most notably, has outfitted Moscow with explosive drones that have been used for more than a year to terrorize Ukrainian civilians and damage cities and infrastructure. The US military previously considered sending seized Iranian weaponry to Kyiv, but Wednesday's announcement is the first official confirmation that it has done so.

US Central Command, or Centcom, said Washington had already transferred about 1.1 million rounds of 7.62mm ammunition — which can be fired from AK-47s — on Monday. The move comes after the government obtained ownership of the rounds in July through a Department of Justice civil forfeiture claim.

The ammo was originally seized in early December 2022 from a small dhow, a kind of simple fishing vessel, transferring weaponry from Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to Houthi rebels in Yemen, which Centcom said was a violation of a United Nations Security Council resolution.

"The US is committed to working with our allies and partners to counter the flow of Iranian lethal aid in the region by all lawful means, including US and UN sanctions and through interdictions," Centcom said in the statement. "Iran's support for armed groups threatens international and regional security, our forces, diplomatic personnel, and citizens in the region, as well as those of our partners. We will continue to do whatever we can to shed light on and stop Iran's destabilizing activities."

Throughout this past winter, Western forces regularly raided boats attempting to smuggle weapons from Iran to Yemen, where the Tehran-backed Houthis have fought a brutal civil war against the internationally recognized government, which is backed by a Saudi-led coalition. During these raids, US and partner militaries captured massive amounts of ammunition, guns, and explosives.

After the hardware is intercepted in Middle Eastern waters, where it all ends up next depends on several factors, including what was discovered. Seized weaponry has in the past been transferred to a third party (such as authorities in Yemen), destroyed at sea or back on land, or sent to a lab for analysis by the elements of the US government or another entity.

US defense and Justice Department officials had worked together to find a way to get some of the seized weaponry to Ukraine, CNN said, first reporting earlier on Wednesday that a transfer of weaponry would happen.

Small-arms ammunition, such as the 1.1 million 7.62mm rounds that Ukraine now possesses, is not at the top of Kyiv's security-assistance wish list. It continues to press the Biden administration for long-range fires, such as the MGM-140 Army Tactical Missile System, known as ATACMS, so its forces can continue to put pressure on high-value Russian targets far beyond the front lines. But the ammunition transfer still comes at an important juncture when aid is increasingly in question.

A top NATO official said this week that Western stockpiles of artillery ammunition — critical weaponry needed to hammer Russian positions — were running dry, and the Biden administration was pressuring lawmakers to allocate more funding so it can provide Kyiv with continued security assistance.

"We cannot under any circumstances allow America's support for Ukraine to be interrupted," the White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby told reporters on Tuesday. "Time is not our friend. We have enough funding authorities to meet Ukraine's battlefield needs for a bit longer, but we need Congress to act to ensure that there is no disruption in our support."

A spokesperson said on Tuesday that the Pentagon had $5.4 billion in remaining funds that could be used to send weapons to Ukraine and $1.6 billion left to replenish its own stocks. "So that is something that we are urging Congress to look at, of course, because we do need to replenish our stocks as we continue to flow aid to Ukraine," Sabrina Singh told reporters.

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