Reuters: The U.S. military in Iraq is seeing an upswing in the number of roadside bomb attacks using deadly armor-piercing munitions linked to Iran, top defense officials said on Friday. By David Morgan
WASHINGTON, Jan 18 (Reuters) – The U.S. military in Iraq is seeing an upswing in the number of roadside bomb attacks using deadly armor-piercing munitions linked to Iran, top defense officials said on Friday.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the number of attacks involving explosively formed penetrators, or EFPs, in the first two weeks of January was about equal to EFP attacks during all of December.
“The number was fairly low in December but it’s about double so far in January,” Gates said during a return flight from a visit to a U.S. Navy installation near Charleston, South Carolina.
The U.S. defense chief provided no details about the attacks and initially described the weapons used as improvised explosive devices, or IEDs. A senior Army officer later said his reference was specifically to attacks involving EFPs.
An IED is potentially less deadly than an EFP, which has the ability to penetrate heavy U.S. armor.
“During the first half of January, there were about as many (EFPs), I think, as there were in all of December. That’s my understanding,” Gates said.
Late last year, U.S. military officials in Iraq said the number of EFP attacks had fallen off but noted the improving quality of the munitions discovered with Iranian-trained Shi’ite militants in southern Iraq.
Washington accuses Tehran of arming, training and funding Shi’ite militias in Iraq through Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps. Iran denies the charges.
Some analysts have said there are signs that Iranian materiel support for Iraqi Shi’ite militias has diminished over the past several months.
But Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno, the No. 2 U.S. commander in Iraq, said this week that Iran continues to train Iraqi “surrogates” and that Iranian-made weapons are regularly showing up in Shi’ite weapons caches.
“We certainly are still uncovering a lot of Iranian weapons here. What we don’t know is if they’re already here or they continue to send them in. We are still finding lots of EFPs,” he told Pentagon reporters via videolink from Iraq on Thursday.
Odierno said a split has recently appeared between Iran-backed militias and other Shi’ites who are beginning to cooperate with U.S. forces in Iraq.
“You have most of the Shi’a, who want to reconcile and who want to work with us. But we still have some, who mostly are supported by Iran, who still are trying to conduct attacks against coalition forces,” he said. (Editing by Xavier Briand)