US displays weapons it says Iran provided to militants

Washington CNN  — 

As some of the most senior members of the Trump Administration sought to fend off a Congressional effort to stop US support for the Saudi-led coalition fighting the Houthis in Yemen, the administration is showcasing evidence of what it says is Iranian support to the Houthis and other militant groups in the region.

On Wednesday, defense officials showed CNN missiles and drones it says were supplied by Iran to Houthi rebels fighting the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen.

The latest display of what the US government says are Iranian-supplied weapons and materials follows a similar exhibition last year which also took place at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling in Washington near the Defense Intelligence Agency headquarters.

Last year’s event included a speech by the US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, who slammed Iran and the Houthis for firing missiles into Saudi Arabia.

The Trump administration has been continuing to increase pressure on the Iranian government and, earlier this month, officially reimposed all penalties that had been lifted as part of the Iranian nuclear deal agreed under President Obama.

It was a decision that put the US at odds with traditional allies like Britain, France, Germany and the European Union as well as China and Russia who signed the agreement in 2015.

On Wednesday, defense officials told CNN that the firing of missiles into Saudi Arabia continued, showing one such Iranian-supplied short range ballistic missile, known as a Qiam-1, which was fired just five days after Haley’s speech.

The firing of that missile “highlight the brazenness and provocativeness” of the Houthis and Iranian backers, the acting Assistant Security of Defense for International Security Affairs, Katie Wheelbarger, told reporters Wednesday.

The officials said that they believe that the Houthis have fired at least eight such missiles into Saudi Arabia since July 2017.

Officials say the missile’s lack of typical stabilizer fins and other aspects of its engineering are proof that it originated in Iran, saying Iran is the only country in the world that manufactures these types of missiles which use what officials called a “Wind Bolt,” a unique Iranian design.

The officials said the missile’s guidance components indicated an Iranian origin, and they also showed reporters that imagery from the inside of the missile featured a quality assurance sticker that bore the markings of an Iranian state-owned manufacturer, Shahid Bagheri Industries. Officials said the markings pointed to a post 2015 production date.

The US does provide the Saudi-led coalition with limited intelligence on Houthi cross border missile attacks.

“We do provide non-combat support to the Saudi-led coalition - such as intelligence sharing against limited threats (Houthi cross border attack preparation or attacks on Red Sea shipping, for example) and logistics,” Secretary of Defense James Mattis told Senators Wednesday according to his prepared remarks provided by the Pentagon.

However that intelligence support has come under scrutiny from Capitol Hill with some members of congress seeking to compel the Administration to cease all support to the Saudi-led coalition.

On Wednesday, the Senate voted 63-37 to advance a resolution ending US support for the Saudi-led coalition amid the controversy over the administration’s response to Saudi Arabia for the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The situation in Yemen is now viewed as the worst humanitarian crisis on the planet, with some 13 million Yemenis at risk of starving to death, according to the United Nations and human rights groups.

Last week, five human rights groups issued an unusually stark statement, saying the US will bear shared responsibility for what may be the largest famine in decades if it doesn’t cease support for the Saudi-led coalition.

Wheelbarger told reporters Wednesday that members of Congress had been invited to view the displayed evidence and that part of the reasons for the demonstration was to educate international and domestic audiences about the threat posed by Iran.

She called the display “an opportunity to show to the world some of the activities we know Iran does to bring instability and chaos to the region”

“Several pieces of evidence that directly tie to Iran-backed defense industries that is evidence of Iran’s proliferation of advanced conventional weapons primarily, in violation of UN Security Council Resolutions that have been in place since 2007,” she added.

An Iranian-made surface to air missile, known as a Sayyad-2, was also on display with US defense officials saying that it had been intercepted in Yemen while it was still in its shipping crate by Saudi Arabia in early 2018.

Similarly, two Iranian made Qasef-1 drones were on display which officials said were recovered after carrying out attacks on targets in Saudi Arabia including the town of Jazan and the Abha international airport.

The display also pointed to Iranian activities elsewhere that officials described as destabilizing.

A Iranian made drone, a Shahed-123, was featured that was recovered by US-led coalition troops in Afghanistan in October 2016. Defense officials said that “exploitation” of the intelligence found in the drone showed that it had taken off from Zabol airfield in Iran and had flown over several US and Afghan military installations in Afghanistan, including Camp Bastion, Kandahar Airfield, and Forward Operating Base Laghman.

Defense officials also accused Iran of supplying small arms to militant groups in Afghanistan, Bahrain, Iraq, Syria and Yemen and that such arms had been discovered “in Afghanistan, Yemen, en route to Yemen, and in the hands of Shia militias in Bahrain.”

Included in some of the interdicted shipments were Iranian copies of anti-tank missiles, AK-47s, sniper rifles, machine guns and rocket-propelled grenade launchers, as well as grenades recovered from militias in Bahrain that bore Farsi writing.

Officials said that evidence of their Iranian origin included the nature and placement of their serial numbers as well as the use of unique materials and colors.

The display also included rockets that officials said originate from Iran and were recovered from the Taliban by US-backed Afghan troops.

Correction: This story has been updated to correct the location of the administration's exhibition of the weapons and other materials.

CNN’s Nicole Gaouette contributed reporting.