A little more than a week ago, two vessels were interdicted off the Somali coast by the USS Winston Churchill. A search and seizure team, which boarded the vessels to carry out a flag verification, discovered a cache of weapons consisting of thousands of AK-47 rifles, light crew-served machine guns, RPGs, and other equipment. For about a decade, Iran has been smuggling weapons through the Arabian Sea to the Horn of Africa and Yemen. The U.S. and our allies interdict several shipments every year; tracing the weapons back to Iran is a pretty easy task, once you know what to look for. 

SOFREP analyzed the photographs from the most recent seizure and found them to be not of Iranian but of Russian origin. 

It is unclear if this put the Biden administration on alert, but it should have. 

It’s a well-known and thoroughly-reported fact that Iran is supporting several proxy battles in the Middle East and North Africa. 

In Syria, Iranian-backed commandos continue to operate and groom recruits in Hezbollah training camps. Israel knows this and continues to strike key targets in the region in an effort to stem the growing Iranian influence there. 

Iran also supports a variety of militia groups in Iraq, many of whom are targeting U.S. and coalition forces across the northern regions of the country. Erbil Air Base in Northern Iraq was the most recent target when an Iranian-backed militia group launched a salvo of rockets that killed one and wounded nine others. 

Iran backs Houthis as they advance on Marib
A Houthi rebel technical. Houthis are making a hard push toward the strategic city of Marib in Northern Yemen bolstered by Iranian weaponry and logistics.

The Houthi rebels in Yemen have long drawn logistical support from Iran. The fighting there has claimed the lives of thousands of civilians and displaced millions, leading to one of the worst humanitarian crises in recent history. Now, the rebels have advanced on the northern city of Marib, less than 100 miles from the Yemeni capital, Sanaa. Marib is not only home to a massive water-sequestering dam that supplies vital irrigation and drinking water to the region, but also the gateway to an extremely oil-rich region of the country. 

In Afghanistan, the Taliban have once again spread to much of the country. Afghan police and military are struggling to contain the proliferation of fighters. The targeted killing of government officials and servicemembers has consumed the major cities. Several reports from the region, including first-hand accounts, show that in and among the Taliban are splinter groups of foreign fighters. These use the chaos as cover to infiltrate strategic areas, orchestrate attacks, and oversee the movement of weapons, fighters, and drugs around and out of the country.

Somalia has, in recent weeks, seen a massive uptick in violence. The extremist group al-Shabaab has carried out several deadly attacks, each more complex and deadly than the last. Al-shabaab is spread across the Sahel too, attacking UN peacekeeping forces, and international troops operating as part of the French-led Task Force Takuba. The violence has grown so uncontrollable that French President Emmanuel Macron organized a summit with the G5 Sahel countries to collaborate on anti-terror operations.

The tentacles of Iran are slithering through the Middle East and Africa and now there is evidence to suggest that Russia is in support. Meanwhile, U.S. diplomats and politicians are eyeing new nuclear agreements with Iran to try and halt its uranium enrichment and production of warheads through a process of economic sanctions and diplomacy. Hell, POTUS hand-picked a multi-agency team for just such a move.

Russian weapons seized off the coast of Somalia where Iran operates
Members of the USS Winston Churchill’s VBSS team preparing to board the dhow. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Louis Thompson Staats IV)

But if you read this week’s tea leaves, it’s apparent that Iran isn’t playing the same game. If anything, it’s gaining in strength using black markets and smuggled resources from proxy battlefronts to bypass sanctions while fanning the flames of extremist violence across huge swaths of the globe. Flames the UN and our allies are struggling to snuff out on their own. And Putin, struggling with his own internal political strife, is throwing his chips in, seemingly to help the Iranian strategy, as indicated by the seized weapons, if only to try and weaken the old archrival Uncle Sam. Battle-hardened Navy SEAL Commander William McRaven seems to agree.  

What’s in store for next week? None of us knows. But, as always, we’ll be here to bring you the stories you won’t find anywhere else with insights and analysis from people who have actually been there. 

In the meantime,

Stay frosty

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