French forces with US aid seize weapons said to be bound for Yemen
Stars and Stripes February 2, 2023
The U.S. military’s eyes in the sky helped French special operations forces seize thousands of rifles and anti-tank missiles on a vessel in the waters of the Middle East, defense officials said Thursday.
The interdiction took place Jan. 15 in the Gulf of Oman and included more than 3,000 assault rifles, 578,000 rounds of ammunition and 23 anti-tank guided missiles apparently bound for rebels in Yemen, an earlier U.S. Central Command statement said Wednesday.
French troops seized the weapons with the assistance of U.S. aerial surveillance, said an official with knowledge of the operation who was unauthorized to speak publicly.
The seizure is one of four announced interdictions over the past two months totaling more than 5,000 weapons and 1.6 million rounds of ammunition, the statement said.
The weapons were seized along routes in the Gulf of Oman often used to traffic weapons from Iran to Yemen, according to CENTCOM.
Yemen is the site of a war between the Iran-backed Houthis, a Shiite rebel movement, and the Sunni-majority government.
The conflict began in 2014, when Houthis seized Sanaa, Yemen’s capital, leading to a counteroperation by Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries.
U.S. officials have repeatedly accused Iran of providing weapons, training and financial support to the Houthis.
The U.S. Navy’s top officer in the Middle East, Vice Adm. Brad Cooper, said Iran showed a “continued pattern of destabilizing activity” after the announced seizure of 2,116 AK-47 rifles on Jan. 6.
Some human rights groups such as Oxfam, meanwhile, accused the U.S. and Britain in January of providing weapons to the Saudi-led coalition that were used in airstrikes against civilians in Yemen.
In a response to an earlier report, officials at the U.S. State Department and Central Command said they do not know how to track whether U.S.-made weapons were used in Yemen by Saudi Arabia or the UAE against civilians, a Government Accountability Office report last June said.
A foreign nation killing civilians while using U.S. weapons would not necessarily count as “misuse,” as the term is not defined in official policy, U.S. military and State Department officials told GAO investigators.
Indiscriminate attacks by the Saudi-led coalition’s combat jets led to nearly 9,000 civilian deaths and almost 24,000 overall deaths since the war started, said a 2022 report by the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, which which monitors war zones around the world.
Despite a six-month cease-fire that ended in October, almost 7,000 people died from political violence in the country in 2022, a January report from the same group said.
Reports of civilian casualties led Congress to pass three joint resolutions of disapproval against the sale of air-to-ground munitions to Saudi Arabia and the UAE in 2019, measures which were vetoed by former President Donald Trump.
The conflict in Yemen has seen widespread use of aerial drones, which experts say gave Iran expertise that would later inform the country’s assistance to Russia in the Kremlin’s war against Ukraine.
On Wednesday, the U.S. said the Yemeni military had seized 100 unmanned aerial vehicle engines apparently bound for Houthi militants.