The United States has recently provided Ukraine with approximately 1.1 million rounds of ammunition that were seized from Iran last year. This ammunition, confiscated from a ship destined for Yemen in December, has been transferred to Ukraine by the US Central Command (Centcom), responsible for Middle East operations. These rounds are of 7.62mm caliber and are used in Soviet-era rifles and light machine guns.
While this ammunition transfer is significant, it constitutes only a small portion of the support Ukraine has received from its Western allies in terms of ammunition. The US has already supplied over 200 million bullets and grenades to Ukraine.
The Iranian ammunition was initially taken by US naval forces from a stateless ship called MARWAN 1 on December 9. The US government gained ownership of it in July through a legal process known as civil forfeiture, which allows assets to be seized if their owner is suspected of criminal involvement. In this case, the claim was made against Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, a branch of the Iranian armed forces responsible for safeguarding the country’s government.
Centcom stated its commitment to working with allies to counter the flow of Iranian lethal aid in the region through lawful means. Iran supports the Houthi rebels in Yemen’s ongoing civil war, but UN Security Council Resolution 2015 prohibits arms transfers to this group.
The war in Yemen began in 2014 when the Houthis took control of the capital, Sanaa, and ousted the country’s government. The internationally recognized government is backed by a coalition led by Saudi Arabia, supported by the US and the UK.
Concerns are growing among Western allies about their ability to adequately supply Ukraine with ammunition. Adm Rob Bauer, chairman of NATO’s military committee, noted that decades of underinvestment had left NATO countries with half-empty ammunition stocks even before the conflict began. He urged governments and arms manufacturers to significantly increase production.
UK Defense Minister James Heappey called on NATO allies to meet the bloc’s agreed target of spending 2% of their national income on defense, a goal expected to be achieved by only 11 of its 31 members this year.
This ammunition transfer is occurring as the Biden administration seeks alternative ways to assist Ukraine due to opposition in Congress. Officials have warned that current funds for Ukraine are nearly depleted, but opposition from some Republican members has prevented the House of Representatives from approving additional funds. A recent vote to replace House Speaker Kevin McCarthy will further delay any vote on additional aid until the middle of the following week. Even then, a future Speaker may face similar opposition when bringing this issue to the floor.