WASHINGTON — Shipments intercepted in the Arabian Sea by Australian, French, and US warships this year contained large quantities of Russian and Iranian weapons, some of which had markings similar to munitions recovered from Houthi fighters in Yemen, according to a report released by an independent group Wednesday.
In October, US officials asserted their forces captured five shipments of Iranian weapons bound for Yemen. The report, published by Conflict Armament Research, draws on markings found on rifles, rocket launchers, anti-tank guided missiles, and munitions, providing some concrete evidence of Iran’s logistical support to Houthis fighting in Yemen’s nearly 2-year-old civil war.
Vice Admiral Kevin M. Donegan, the commander of US Naval Forces in the region, said the first of the five weapons shipments were seized in April 2015. The researchers’ report focuses on three weapon caches recovered in early 2016 by the crews of the HMAS Darwin, FS Provence, and USS Sirocco. The ships were operating as a part of a multinational Combined Maritime Force task force that covers the Red Sea, Gulf of Aden, Indian Ocean and Gulf of Oman.
The report says its analysis of the seized materiel “suggests the existence of a weapon pipeline extending from Iran to Somalia and Yemen.’’
The research group obtained photographs of the weapons and their serial numbers found on two of the vessels, known as dhows, boarded by the crews from the Darwin and the Provence. Aside from seaborne smuggling routes, weapons have made their ways from Oman and into Houthi hands, according to a recent report from Reuters.
Aboard the dhow searched by the Provence in March 2016, the crew found roughly 2,000 Kalashnikov-style rifles with serial numbers in sequential order, suggesting that the weapons came from a national stockpile, according to the report. The rifles were ‘‘characteristic of Iranian manufacture’’ and were shipped alongside 64 Hoshdar-M sniper rifles also bearing sequential serial numbers. The Hoshdar-M is an Iranian rifle modeled after the Russian SVD Dragunov. The Provence also recovered nine Russian Kornet antitank guided weapons.