STAFF: OK, good afternoon everybody. I'm Major Rob Lodewick. I am the Press Operations Officer for the CENTCOM desk and the Middle East and I'll be facilitating this afternoon's press briefing. Today we're joined by United States Central Command Lead Spokesman Captain Bill Urban. Captain Urban is joining us from CENTCOM Headquarters at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida.
Today's briefing will focus on the recent maritime weapons seizures from within the CENTCOM area of responsibility. Specifically, the 9 February interdiction of a stateless dhow vessel by the cruiser USS Normandy and the 25 November 2019 interdiction conducted by the destroyer USS Forrest Sherman.
Both events resulted in the successful seizure of missiles and other weapons components of Iranian design and manufacture. We have 45 minutes this afternoon so please hold your questions until the end of the briefing. Please be sure to state your name and affiliation for Captain Urban and also be aware that there is a four to five second delay in communications.
Please remember that Captain Urban is here specifically to discuss these maritime interdictions within the CENTCOM AOR and these specific seizures. Any additional questions regarding the command's broader role to include Operation Resolute Support in Afghanistan and Operation Inherent Resolve in Iraq and Syria can be directed to the CENTCOM media desk.
So with that, we'll start with a quick comms check. Sir, how do you read me on your end?
CAPTAIN WILLIAM URBAN: I hear you loud and clear. How do you read me?
STAFF: We've got you loud and clear, sir. The room is yours.
CAPT. URBAN: All right. Good afternoon, everyone, and thank you for coming. I'm going to walk you through a presentation on recent weapons interdictions at sea by USS Normandy and USS Forrest Sherman while operating in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility.
These interdictions fit a consistent and historical pattern of vessels being used to transfer weapons to the Houthis in Yemen and we assess Iran is responsible for planning, organizing and making these shipments. The U.S. government has repeatedly stated that these weapons transfers are in violation of UN Security Council Resolutions prohibiting the "direct or indirect supply, sale or transfer" of weapons to the Houthis.
My goal is to explain how we operationally impeded the flow of these weapons and to explain our assessment on the origin of these weapons.
First slide, please.
The most recent interdiction of advanced weapons and weapon components occurred on February 9th, 2020. On the dhow pictured on the right, while conducting routine maritime security operations in the Arabian Sea, a team from the USS Normandy boarded the dhow in accordance with international law and discovered a large cache of Iranian-made weapons that were assessed to be intended for delivery to the Houthis in Yemen.
The boarding team seized the weapons and brought them aboard the USS Normandy for subsequent inspections. The weapons have since been made available for inspections by international partners and organizations.
The seized material included 150 Dehlavieh Iranian-made copies of the Russian Kornet anti-tank guided missile and three Iranian-designed and manufactured 358 surface-to-air missiles. The cache also included other components for unmanned maritime systems. Finally, the cache included Iranian-manufactured thermal scopes as well as scopes from a third party.
Although a detailed analysis of the shipment is ongoing, the seizure is consistent with historical patterns of Iranian smuggling of advanced weapons to the Houthis in Yemen, including specific similarities to recent seizures of weapons that a U.N. panel has reported to be of an Iranian manufacturer.
Because of the similarities in the cases, I also wanted to highlight the seizure of additional Iranian weapons that occurred in late November 2019. The weapons seized in that shipment were assessed to be intended for the Houthis in Yemen, were inspected by international partners, and were mentioned in a recent U.N. report.
Similar to the February 9th interdiction, the dhow on the left was boarded on November 25th, 2019, by a team from the USS Forest Sherman in the Arabian Sea in accordance with international law. During the boarding, a shipment of advanced Iranian weapons and Iranian weapon components was discovered. The dhow was carrying 21 Dehlavieh anti-tank guided missiles and five near fully assembled Iranian-designed and manufactured 358 surface-to-air missiles.
The cache also included advanced missile components for both land attack cruise missiles and anti-ship cruise missiles, and components for unmanned aerial systems. The cache also included Iranian-manufactured thermal scopes. And finally, the cache included approximately 13,000 blasting caps.
Extensive inspection of the weapons and weapon components determined that these weapons are of Iranian manufacture and are consistent with known Iranian weapons. This includes components of a 351 land attack cruise missile that matches the missiles used by Iran to attack the Aramco refineries in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia last September.
Several international partner nations, as well as U.N. inspectors, had access to inspect the weapons. A recent U.N. report from January identified the weapons seized by USS Forest Sherman as likely Iranian-produced weapons, including the Dehlavieh anti-tank guided missile, the 351 land attack cruise missile, and the C-802 anti-ship cruise missile.
Let's take a look at the weapons cache. This slide provides a look at the breadth of weapons and components seized by the USS Normandy in February. You can see the anti-tank weapons, the surface-to-air missiles, and various electronic components for unmanned systems.
The next slide provides a look at the breadth of weapons and components seized by the USS Forest Sherman in November. You can see the anti-tank missile sections of land attack cruise missiles, sections of anti-ship cruise missiles, surface-to-air missiles, high-explosive warheads, blasting caps, unmanned aerial system components, and various electronic devices.
A close look at the two slide immediately reveals the number of similarities between the two shipments. But let's look at some of the specifics.
Here is a look at the missile seized by the USS Forest Sherman, and confirmed by the U.N. report as likely Iranian Dehlavieh anti-tank guided missiles. The markings and components of these missiles are unique to Iranian systems. The launch tube markings on the Iranian version are left-center justified -- or left-justified, rather than center-justified on the Russian variant.
The markings coming out of the Iranian version contains five lines of data, whereas the Russian missiles contain eight lines of data.
Here is a slide showing some of the 150 missiles seized by the USS Normandy in February. The United States assesses these missiles are, again, the Iranian Dehlavieh anti-tank guided missile. You can see all the same telltale signs.
This slide shows one of the five near fully assembled uniquely Iranian-designed and -manufactured 358 surface-to-air missiles that were part of the shipment seized by the USS Forest Sherman in November. This slide also shows some of the common components that are used in other Iranian systems.
Several components in the interdicted SAMs include the air data computer, the INS, and the vertical gyro, which have all been identified in other Iranian weapons systems, to include the UAVs used in the 14 September Aramco attacks and the Houthi-used Qasef and Sammad unmanned aerial systems.
Across the missiles are standard Iranian number markings, which were observed on other Iranian weapons displayed during the MAKS 2017 airshow in Russia.
This slide shows the same Iranian 358 surface-to-air missiles, but these were seized by the USS Normandy in February.
This slide shows a number of thermal optic weapon sights which were seized by the USS Forest Sherman in November and are produced by Rayan Roshd Afzar, an Iranian-based defense industry manufacturer. These sights are consistent with products offered by Iran and have been widely proliferated in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen.
Some of the unique Iranian design characteristics of these sights include ribbing on the forward objective lens, four black buttons in a straight line, and a separate red button. We have included a photo from the Rayan Roshd Afzar catalog in this graphic.
This slide shows the same type of thermal optic weapon sights produced by the same Iranian-based manufacturer, which were seized by the USS Normandy in February.
The shipment interdicted by the USS Forest Sherman in November included several unmanned aerial system components, including engines and related parts, as well as servos used to move control surfaces and to regulate the throttle. These components are consistent with those that have been identified on numerous Qasef and Sammad UAVs recovered in the Yemen battle space.
It is important to note that the Houthis have used these Iranian-designed systems to conduct lethal attacks against civil, commercial, and military targets on the Arabian Peninsula.
Here are components for unmanned service systems interdicted by the USS Normandy in February.
The shipment interdicted by the USS Forest Sherman in November included components of the Iranian-manufactured C-802 anti-ship cruise missile. The C-802 consists of individual cabins that can be disassembled for transportation but interconnect to form the finished missile.
The shipment included the radar homing seeker and warhead sections of the C-802 that are typically labeled in English and Farsi. This is consistent with a photo previously released of a fully assembled C-802 missile at the bottom right of this side.
Also included in the shipment were missile batteries, cabling, and related hardware. We assessed these components were being shipped to the Houthis to be re-assembled with components smuggled in other shipments. These type of components were not a part of the cache seized by the USS Normandy.
The Forest Sherman-seized sea shipment also included several sections of an Iranian-made 351 land attack cruise missile. The interdicted sections of the 351 cruise missile were consistent with the engine and tail configuration of material recovered from a 351 used in the Iranian attack on Aramco refineries in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
As you can see, the pictured missile has a quality control label written in Farsi; also, the missile has a satellite navigation antenna with a Farsi quality control label. These types of components were not a part of the cache seized by the USS Normandy.
Finally, the shipment seized by the USS Forest Sherman included more than 13,000 blasting caps. There were no blasting caps in the cache seized by the USS Normandy in February.
The United States assess with high confidence that the weapons seized by the USS Forest Sherman in November and the weapons seized by the USS Normandy in February were manufactured in Iran, and were being illicitly smuggled to the Houthis in Yemen, in contravention of multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions.
Some of these weapons were Iranian copies of Russian-made weapons, and some were uniquely designed by Iran and found nowhere else in the world. The U.N. has reported its conclusion that the weapons seized by the USS Forest Sherman were likely manufactured by Iran.
Beyond that I have provided visual evidence linking them to Iranian systems that are publicly available. Additionally, while the detailed assessment of the weapons seized by the USS Normandy in February is ongoing, the similarity between the weapons and the weapon components in each shipment is obvious, the circumstances of seizures are similar.
Finally, the United States is confident that these weapons fit the pattern of weapon smuggling to the Houthis in Yemen which Iran has been engaged in for at least five years. The latest two seizures add substantial support to the body of evidence that Iran continues to smuggle advanced weaponry into Yemen, in contravention to U.N. Security Council resolutions.
The seizures conducted by the USS Forrest Sherman was closely analyzed by United States and international partners and includes numerous advanced weapons systems of unique Iranian design and manufacturer.
The latest seizure by the USS Normandy included numerous and significant similar systems and components discovered in similar circumstances. There is no doubt to where these weapons came from or where they were going.
With that, I will take a few questions.
Lita Baldor (AP): Hi Bill, It’s Lita, I’m with AP. You said that this fits a pattern of Iranian weapons systems going to the Houthis, but do you have any indication or evidence of actual movement of these weapons, of these interdicted dhows -- where they were actually coming from and where -- obviously where they were going, but do you have anything that suggests where they were actually coming from?
CAPT. URBAN: So that's a good question, thank you. So the United States has interdicted, over the years, six separate shipments of weapons that we assess originated in Iran and were intended for the Houthis in Yemen.
A number of these -- a number of these have been reported on by external organizations, conflict armament research, the U.N. There certainly is additional information that I'm not going to be able to provide on the specifics -- electronic exploitation. But the pattern has been developed over time, there has been numerous seizures that we have categorized.
And I think holistically when you look at the seizures that there are a repeating patterns, there are specifics in there of weapons that are specific to the Iranian manufacturer. The 358 is a relatively new weapon that is designed -- it was designed by Iran, and it has not been widely distributed. That weapon is -- it's seen nowhere else in the world and it's been exported only to Iranian proxies.
So the presence of that weapon in this shipment is a very telltale sign that these originated in Iran. Certainly they were intended for the Houthis in Yemen. That's all.
Q: But -- so do you assess these originated in Iran, or are you relying on there are just telltale signs that it originated in Iran?
CAPT. URBAN: So the way I like to talk about this -- there are essentially four pillars. There is the historical pattern which we've talked about, that we've released numerous examples of Iranian weapons -- those have been traced through other organizations.
You have the fact that Iran has -- the Houthis -- have continued to use more and more advanced weapons that were not found in Yemen prior to the conflict. Those weapons have continued to escalate in capability and ability. We have UAVs that were not in Yemen prior to the conflict that have increased in range. We have anti-ship cruise missiles that have been fired into the Red Sea. There's land attack cruise missiles -- all these missiles, historically were not present in Yemen prior to the -- prior to the conflict.
You also have the U.N. Security Council resolutions on this. You have known weapon exporters -- United States, Russia, China all signed on to the original U.N. Security Council's resolutions. So there is not a wide market for people delivering weapons to the Houthis in Yemen. Obviously the international community has signed on to that.
And then the fourth pillar of that assessment is really the specifics of the weapons, the 358, the 351 land-attack cruise missiles, the 358 anti-surface missile -- anti-air missile has -- have not been widely distributed outside of Iran.
We obviously have additional information beyond that, but I just can't go in to the collections that we have. But like a table with five pillars, even though I can't provide you the fifth pillar, I think it stands -- the case stands pretty well on its own.
Kasim Heri (Anadolu Agency): You mentioned about the weapon caches and everything, but you didn't mention the people onboard that dhow, are they also in the U.S. custody? And which country did they hold the citizenship of?
CAPT. URBAN: So my understanding is all of the -- all of the mariners were Yemeni mariners. They were turned over to the Yemeni Coast Guard, and I don't have any additional information on where they are. They are not in U.S. custody.
Q: So they are not -- so -- and did the United States forces or intelligence community somehow question these people if -- where they originated from and where they were heading to? So -- without doing these questions, or you just handed them over to Yemeni Coast Guard?
CAPT. URBAN: No, certainly they were interviewed on board the ship, certainly there were electronics confiscated that provide additional information on where they weapons had come from. There's a lot of indicators that we have; unfortunately I'm just not going to be able to provide any of that.
Q: Two questions -- does the Iranian navy ever get involved in transporting these kinds of weapons rather than doing it in the illicit kind of subterranean centrifuge fashion?
And second question, you say this has been going on for five years, I guess since 2015. Have you seen any changes in either the quantities of the weapons being delivered the Houthis or their sophistication, the nature of those weapons?
CAPT. URBAN: All right, so I'll -- I'll talk about the second part of that question first. Certainly the missiles that are the weapons that Iran has imported or exported to the Houthis in Yemen have consistently increased in capability.
Ballistic missiles fired by the Houthis in Yemen have continued to increase in range and size. The land attack cruise missiles were not present until quite recently. The 358 surface-to-air missile was not in Yemen previously. It's not an old weapon. It's a relatively new design.
Anti-ship cruise missiles were used back several years ago when the Houthis attempted to attack a U.S. destroyer in the Red Sea. But certainly the amount of weapons and the -- and the quality of the weapons has increased over time.
Q: Hi. Tony Capaccio with Bloomberg. Two questions. One, did you -- has CENTCOM assessed that these were IRGC sanctioned shipments or any indications these were regularly Iranian Army.
CAPT. URBAN: So I think there's certainly indications that the Iranian Quds Force, IRGC is, you know, a prime part of the weapons transfer to the proxies in the region.
Q: Second question, have you seen any of these missiles -- these -- these -- any of these weapons actually deployed by the IRGC in coastal batteries along the Iranian -- on the Iranian coast were they're just kind of (inaudible). You've seen them arrayed along their coast line? Part of the Quds Force arsenal?
CAPT. URBAN: So certainly -- so certainly in the last five years the conflict in Yemen has spilled into the maritime on a number of occasions. Certainly the U.S. Destroyer -- USS Mason was transiting the Red Sea several years ago and the Houthis fired a anti-ship -- anti-ship cruise missile at it.
We have seen mines. Several years ago a Yemeni Coast Guard vessel was struck by a mine assessed to be a likely Houthi-laid. Quite recently a mine -- a likely Houthi mine, was assessed to have struck an Egyptian fishing boat in the Southern Red Sea and causing innocent loss of life.
So there have certainly been examples of the Houthis spilling this conflict in the maritime. They've also attacked a Saudi Arabian frigate, a UAE contracted vessel with a missile. So small boat attacks, they've done a variety of things in the maritime and certainly these specific weapons can get there but others have certainly been used in the past.
Q: (David Martin, CBS). I missed the very top but do you have tracks on the dhows. These are Yemini seaman, did these dhows come out of a Yemini port, go to a Iranian port and were on -- on their way back. Do you have those tracks?
CAPT. URBAN: So unfortunately I'm not going to be able to provide any specifics on what we know about how the transfer of weapons occurred. You know the -- the USS Normandy, the USS Forest Sherman were on routine maritime security operations in the Arabian Sea.
They -- they conducted these flag verification boardings in accordance with international law and they -- they discovered the weapons. There's a lot of tell tale signs in a holistic look at -- at the seizure that clearly point to a pattern of Iranian smuggling and of specific Iranian weapons not seen before outside of Iranian control or Iranian proxy control.
And -- and there's a -- there's just not any plausible way that these missiles and weapons could have gotten on a dhow between Iran and Yemen except that the IRGC has continued a pattern of smuggling to the Houthis and Yemen.
Q: (John Ismay, New York Times). Can you describe the performance characteristics of the 358 missiles?
CAPT. URBAN: Unfortunately I'm not going to be able to talk about what we know about the 358 missile. It is a -- it is a new design. It is a uniquely Iranian designed missile and I'm just not going to be able to talk about it at this point.
STAFF: Right here, second row.
Q: Thank you, sir. Jack Detsch from Al Monitor. Just wanted to ask you really quickly about the supply chain between the Houthis and Iran. Do you assess these two seizures have interrupted in any significant way that -- that supply chain or have you set back the Houthis ability to domestically and indigenously produce drones or any other such weapons?
CAPT. URBAN: So the -- the thing about smuggling is that there are a lot of ways to successfully smuggle weapons. We have interdicted six shipments over the last five years of weapons assessed to come from Iran to the Houthis in Yemen that -- that probably are a small fraction of the weapons that have continued to be smuggled over the years.
We don't have an assessment of what we -- what we haven't got but the -- the number of weapons that we see in Yemen; ballistic missiles, UAV attack -- one way attack UAVs, cruise missiles, anti-ship missiles, mines, there's a lot of weapons being smuggled into Yemen that -- that we are not able to catch.
Q: And just a quick follow. The U.N. assess that one of the main smuggling routes is overland through Oman into Yemen. Have you -- has the Pentagon or has the central command had any conversations with Omani authorities or just to try and stop the -- the flow of that supply.
CAPT. URBAN: So I'm not going to -- I'm not going to be able to discuss what we might know -- might or might not know about other means of smuggling or -- or conversations we might have had with other governments.
What I can say is I'm here to talk about weapons that were clearly originated in Iran and were intended for the Houthis in Yemen, they were interdicted at sea and we continue to conduct Maritime security operations in the region.
STAFF: Second row.
Q: Thank you. Thank you, Captain. Fadi Mansour with Al Jazeera. Beyond saying that he weapons originated in Iran, do you have enough confidence to say whether the shipment came from Iran or not? This is the first question.
And then second, if I may, do the Iranians in the last six shipments that you talked about, were these direct shipments or they take indirect routes to get to the Houthis? What is your assessment on this?
CAPT. URBAN: So in -- in response to your first question, we are absolutely confident that these weapons originated in Iran. They are uniquely Iranian in many aspects and -- and many regards and I can't talk about what we know about the chain of custody between Iran and -- and the dhow, but we are confident that they originated in Iran.
The second question I wasn't clear on.
Q: Well because the -- you were -- I mean, when –I’ve been listening to the briefing so far and the main -- you're talking about Iran's responsibility in everything and you showed us all these weapons and the unique features but we haven't heard from you whether these weapons came from Iran.
I mean, we understand they are manufactured in Iran, they have all of the Iranian features but the question remains did this shipment come from Iran or from a third party to the Houthis? This is the main question when you're making these accusations or at least, like, giving this information out.
CAPT. URBAN: I -- I'm sorry, I don't understand. If -- if the weapons were manufactured in Iran then they came from Iran and certainly 150 anti-tank guided missiles do not just walk away, they -- they are illicitly smuggled for a purpose and that purpose is to spread lethal assistance to the Houthis, to Iranian proxies.
You know, there's -- there's not a plausible explanation on how these weapons got onto a vessel in Yemen without the sanction of the Iranian government.
STAFF: OK. Ryan?
Q: Hi, Captain, thank you for doing this. Do you have a sense of where the dhows were headed in Yemen? Were they headed for Hudaydah or somewhere else along the Houthi-controlled coast?
CAPT. URBAN: You know, I just -- I'm not going to be able to provide specifics on where we think they were headed specifically other than into the control of the Houthis for use in the conflict in -- in the -- in Yemen.
Q: Hi Captain Urban, Courtney Kube from NBC News. I -- I know you said that you don't have a good assessment of how many shipments you could have missed but it seems as if there were six interdictions in five years and then there were two in such a quick period of time, as in two or three months.
Is there like a -- can you give us any sense of is the optempo up for some reason or is -- or can you even say that you see these -- you're -- that you're aware that these shipments are going but they just aren't always interdicted?
I just -- I'm having a hard time understanding why there were two such significant shipments interdicted in such a short period of time unless there's some reason for it, like they've upped their optempo moving stuff in.
CAPT. URBAN: So the interdiction of weapons at sea is a difficult process. Weapons can be smuggled in a number of ways. The -- the ocean is -- and the waterways of the region are quite substantial, the ships that we're looking for are quite small. There are other means to smuggle weapons.
So, you know, sometimes you get lucky, sometimes you make your own luck. Unfortunately I'm not going to be able to talk about specifically which case that was in our -- in this regard, but the -- you know, we certainly were expecting maritime security operations in the region, the crews of the USS Normandy and USS Forrest Sherman did admirably well in this seizure and I think that's unfortunately all I'm going to be able to say on that.
Q: Do you think that there's been more shipments recently or is this -- I mean, so can you give us any sense -- I -- of -- of -- of why two big shipments just recently like this? Any reason at all?
CAPT. URBAN: I -- I -- I don't really have an assessment. I mean, I think there's a continuing pattern of Iran attempting to provide weapons to the Houthis in Yemen, and I think successfully in a large number of cases. Ballistic missiles are often fired by the Houthis inside of Yemen and also fired into Saudi Arabia. UAVs are being used to attack military targets inside Yemen and civilian targets outside of Yemen.
There's a extensive pattern of -- of weapons being transferred into Yemen that continues the conflict, that continues the suffering in Yemen, and it's a -- and it's a continuing pattern that, you know, I don't have an estimate of why we were able to get more, other than the fact that, you know, I'm proud that we were.
Q: Bill, it's Jennifer Griffin from Fox News. A couple of questions. Were you able to track this dhow from Kish Island, for instance, where often weapons are put on to dhows? Were you tracking it or was it really just dumb luck that you intercepted it or was it based on a tip, maybe from a third -- third party?
CAPT. URBAN: Again, Jennifer, unfortunately I'm -- I'm not going to be able to provide any specifics on what -- what necessitated this boarding, other than to say it was conducted in -- in accordance with international law. When the teams got on board, they discovered a -- a large cache of Iranian weapons and -- and a -- those inspections have confirmed these are -- are weapons that originated in Iran as suspected.
Q: And if I could just follow up, since we don't often have a CENTCOM briefing, there was a video that came out of Syria showing a U.S. military vehicle pushing a Russian military vehicle off the road. Can you comment on that and do you know the context and what happened?
CAPT. URBAN: I have not seen that video so I -- I wouldn't be able to comment on that at this point.
Q: But you're not aware of any incidents between Russians and American troops?
CAPT. URBAN: You know, in general, I will say that we continue to operate a robust de-confliction line with the Russians. By and large, those are effective to de-escalate tensions, to prevent friction. We continue to operate it every day. OIR and the CAOC continue to talk to their Russian counterparts.
And, you know, by and large, our interactions with the Russians have been professional.
STAFF: Yes ma’am.
Q: Hello Bill, this is Sylvie from AFP. You -- I have two questions. First, can you explain to us what these blasting caps can be used for? Because there are a very large number. Is it the kind of caps that were put on the some ships recently?
And also, these -- the second seizure was -- happened after the killing of General Soleimani. So does it mean that the fact that Soleimani is not here anymore has not hampered the capacity of the Quds Force to send weapons to the Houthis?
CAPT. URBAN: OK, first on the blasting caps- there's a variety of reasons you could use a blasting cap. I'm not going to be able to go in to every one of those, you know, you can look that up and see -- there's open source on what blasting caps could be used for. There's a variety of civilian and military uses for those. We assess they're most likely being used by the Houthis for military purposes.
For -- with respect to the Soleimani issue, I think the Quds Force has demonstrated a consistent pattern of trying to provide weapons to the Houthis in Yemen, to expand its conflict, to support the Houthis in their fight in Yemen, despite U.N. Security Council resolutions embargoing those weapon shipments and apparently it has not had an effect on their desire to continue to provide those weapons to the Houthis.
STAFF: Ma'am right here in the second row, do you still have a question?
Q: Well, do you have anything about the North Korea embargo on this? Because North Korea and Iran, they cooperated in this development? So do you maybe believe North Korea smuggle din weapons or something?
CAPT. URBAN: So I am not aware of any North Korean components in the shipments. I'm not saying there are not any, but I'm just not aware of any at this point.
Q: Thank you Captain. Jeff with Task and Purpose. I understand you're making the case that these weapons were manufactured in Iran, can you say how do you know they weren't bought by an arms dealer from the Iranian government, or perhaps from another country and then sold to Iran indirect and sold to the Houthis indirectly so that this was not a transaction directly from the Iranian government to the Houthis?
CAPT. URBAN: We assess that the IRGC is continuing -- has demonstrated a pattern and is continuing to attempt to get weapons to the Houthis in Yemen. There's a variety of ways they do this, certainly this vessel was contracted for the purpose of delivering weapons.
But I'm just not going to be able to talk about what specifically we know about it other than to say that this is a part of a pattern -- a historical pattern of weapons -- specific Iranian weapons being delivered to the Houthis in Yemen, or attempted to be delivered to the Houthis in Yemen, and that's all I can say on that.
Q: I understand. I just -- I didn't quite hear an answer to my question. I understand there's a historical pattern, you have anecdotal evidence and you can show where these weapons were manufactured.
What I'm trying to get at is how can you demonstrate to the world that there is a direct link between the IRGC, or the Iranian government, these weapons and the Houthis other than saying well we have evidence we can't share. What can you share that ties these weapons, the IRGC, and the Houthis?
CAPT. URBAN: So our assessment would be that any contracting as a part of this shipment would be specifically on behalf of the IRGC to deliver these weapons to the Houthis in Yemen. Again, that's all I'm going to be able to say on that.
Q: (Inaudible). Back to the 358s, is this the first time the United States has seized these missiles, or were they part of earlier shipments as well? And is this something brand new that you're seeing, or is this a new generation of missile?
CAPT. URBAN: So this is -- as far as I know, the first two times that these weapons have been in U.S. hands. I'm not aware of any other seizures. It's a new Iranian system, and it, you know, has been used in the Yemeni battle space.
STAFF: Back row.
Q: (Inaudible), thank you very much for your time. How would you describe the IRGC's situation post-Soleimani, and do you think it is important you have a pattern in Iraq or Kurdistan to respond Iranian threat and protect your military bases and your embassy over there?
CAPT. URBAN: So with respect to this specific shipment -- are these specific shipments, we assess that it's clear indication that the IRGC continues to attempt to deliver weapons to the Houthis in Yemen, and support the Houthis in that conflict despite the U.N. Security Council resolutions embargoing weapon deliveries to Yemen.
As far as U.S. forces in the region, we continue to evaluate our defenses and our posture in the region to ensure that we are well postured to defend U.S. forces, to deter potential aggression and to be prepared to respond if necessary.
Q: (Inaudible). I'm kind of curious about the arsenal that the Houthis have. They've been fighting now for five years in an intense civil war. How much of this Iranian armament do we think actually composes of, you know, what is their arsenal? And do these Iranian-made weapons -- do they transform them on the battlefield as a game changer for them?
CAPT. URBAN: So I think the assessment would be that primarily the weapons seen at the beginning of the conflict were provided by the -- well, some of them were seized in Yemen itself. But a lot of the weapons in the early part of the conflict were provided by the Iranians.
I think it is quite possible that the Houthis have developed some rudimentary ability to take Iranian components and assemble them in Yemen to assemble those weapons themselves. Parts of these shipments were disassembled and were assessed to be intended to be reassembled in the Yemeni battle space -- that makes the smuggling easier.
But you know, a significant portion of the weapons being used by the Houthis in Yemen are coming from Iran, because it is probably difficult for them to get weapons from other places.
Q: Sorry if you could just do that last little bit there. I'm sorry, you got cut off there.
CAPT. URBAN: Sorry. That's especially the advanced weapons that we see in these shipments.
Q: And what about the other types like the ammunition, shells, things like that, the ‘dumb’ weapons. I mean does -- does the bulk of that also come from Iran or through Iranian intermediaries?
CAPT. URBAN: I think there's a variety of ways that they can get to some of the, you know, AK-47s and ammunitions to supply those from other conflict regions. Probably a significant amount of material support is provided by the IRGC as well. But you know I don't have any more to provide on that.
STAFF: OK. We've got time for one more question. Right here up front.
Q: Thanks Captain Urban, Corey Dickstein from Stars and Stripes. You've talked about the pattern here interdicting six -- six of these in the past. What are the consequences for Iran and the bottom line on the consequences for them to continue doing this. There's obviously not any sign that they're going to stop.
CAPT. URBAN: So I think part of what I'm doing here today is to, you know, help inform the international community of the continuing problem that we have of Iranians delivering weapons to the Houthis and Yemen, expanding the conflict, making that conflict worse.
And I don't have any answers on the consequences other than to say that we're doing everything we can to expose the malign activities that we observe and are able to interdict.
STAFF: OK. With that we're just about out of time. Sir, thank you very much for being with us today. Do you have any closing words for the group?
CAPT. URBAN: Sure. Thanks Rob. I just have a few things I would like to say. First, I would like to point out that maritime interdictions are difficult work. I know I've said that before. But there is a lot of ocean to search and the vessels we are looking for are relatively small.
I would like to congratulate the crews of the USS Normandy and the USS Forest Sherman and laud the professionalism with which they accomplished these interdictions.
Second, I would like to point out the significance of these Iranian weapon smuggling from two perspectives. First, for the international community -- the supply of Iranian weapons to the Houthis has often led to the spillage of the Yemini conflict beyond its borders.
The Houthis have conducted or attempted attacks on civil targets in the UAE in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The Houthis have fired missiles at U.S. warships and UAVs several years ago. A Yemeni Coast Guard vessel struck a likely Houthi mine and recently an Egyptian fishing vessel also struck a likely Houthi mine with the innocent loss of life.
It is also important to understand that a possible stop in commercial shipping through the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait would have a significant impact on the world economy, and it is in all our interest to prevent such a spillage or stoppage.
Finally, for the people of Yemen, the continual supply of Iranian weapons to the Houthis has certainly prolonged the conflict, delayed a political solution, and increased the suffering of the Yemeni people and I think it's important to recognize that. All right. Thanks everyone.
STAFF: Thank you, sir. Ladies and gentlemen, this concludes today's briefing. Thank you very much.