US Navy Offers Cash Prize For Information Related To Drug And Weapon Smuggling In The Arabian Gulf
Ilustrasi kapal perang Armada ke-5 AL AS. (Wikimedia Commons / US Naval Forces Central Command / US Fifth Fleet)

JAKARTA - The US Navy's 5th Fleet based in the Middle East has begun offering rewards for information that can help intercept weapons, drugs, and other illicit shipments across the region, amid tensions over Iran's nuclear program and Tehran arming Yemen's Houthi rebels.

Avoiding mentioning Iran directly, the 5th Fleet's decision to offer cash and other items for actionable intelligence in the Arabian Gulf and other strategic waterways could increase pressure on arms flows to the Houthis as a faltering ceasefire is still in place in the country. Yemen.

The Houthis are known to have threatened a new allied task force organized by the 5th Fleet in the Red Sea, although there have been no attacks by Iranian-backed forces against the Navy since then.

Meanwhile, 5th Fleet said it and its partners seized $500 million in drugs alone by 2021, more than the previous four years combined. The 5th Fleet also intercepted 9,000 guns in the same period, three times the number seized in 2020.

"Any destabilizing activity comes to our attention", Commander (Lieutenant Colonel) Timothy Hawkins, spokesman for the 5th Fleet, told the Associated Press, as quoted on July 5.

"We certainly saw last year's skyrocketing success in the seizure of both narcotics and illicit weapons. This is another step in our efforts to improve regional maritime security", he continued.

armada ke lima al as
Illustration of the US Navy's 5th Fleet rapid reaction unit. (Wikimedia Commons/US Naval Forces Central Command/US Fifth Fleet)

The new 5th Fleet initiative was launched Tuesday through the Department of Defense Rewards Program, which sees troops offering cash and goods for tips on battlefields in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere after Al Qaeda launched the September 11, 2001 attacks.

Since ground fighting had been largely halted throughout the region, the 5th Fleet decided to try using the program while patrolling Middle Eastern waters.

Commander Hawkins said operators who are fluent in Arabic, English, and Farsi will be the mainstay. Meanwhile, the Navy will also be picking up additional tips online, in Dari and Pashto. The value could be as high as $100,000, including information about premeditated attacks targeting Americans, he added.

It is unclear whether the 5th Fleet's sharp increase in seizures represents a return to shipments after the coronavirus pandemic or an overall increase in the number of illicit shipments in the region. Smugglers usually use stateless dhows, traditional wooden sailing vessels common in the Middle East, to transport drugs and weapons.

One of the weapons' destinations appears to be Yemen. The Houthis seized Yemen's capital, Sanaa, in September 2014 and forced the internationally recognized government into exile. The Saudi-led coalition armed with US weapons and intelligence entered the war on the side of the exiled Yemeni government in March 2015.

Years of inconclusive fighting have pushed the Arabian peninsula's poorest country to the brink of famine. The truce that started around the holy month of Ramadan appears to be still in place for now.

Despite a United Nations Security Council arms embargo on Yemen, Iran has long transferred rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, missiles, and other weaponry to the Houthis. Although Iran denies arming the Houthis, independent, western and UN experts have traced the components back to Iran.

Asked whether the new seizure could increase tensions with Iran, Commander Hawkins listed weapons and drugs the Navy hopes to intercept under the program.

"That's what we're after. It's not in the interest of regional stability and security", he said.

Iran's mission to the United Nations did not respond to a request for comment. The US and Iranian navies continue to experience tension in the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Arabian Gulf through which a fifth of all oil trade passes.

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