A lethal bomb generally associated with Iran and its proxies has reemerged in Iraq after a six year hiatus, killing an American soldier. The Washington Post first reported that an explosively formed penetrator (EFP) was used in a roadside attack that occurred in Salah ad-Din province on Oct. 1.
The commander of Operation Inherent Resolve Land Component confirmed during his briefing today that a steel EFP struck a US vehicle at a dip in the road along Route Tampa. The bombing occurred as the Islamic State’s territorial control in Iraq wanes.
An explosively formed penetrator (EFP) was the signature of the Mahdi Army and Special Groups, Iranian militias that targeted US and allied forces in Iraq. Composed of a milled concave plate typically formed of copper, EFPs are extremely lethal, even against thick armor.
After the fall of Saddam Hussein, Iran began producing and supplying EFPs to Iraqi Shiite insurgent groups, dramatically increasing US casualties. A US military officer explained to FDD’s Long War Journal in 2007: “The EFP is not an IED, in that there is nothing improvised about them. They are manufactured in factories, mostly I believe in Iran. The true IED can be put together by small insurgent cells with little or no support. The EFP indicates a large logistical network.” Iraqi groups eventually developed domestic production capabilities, according to various reports.
On Oct. 1, an EFP struck a US vehicle north of Tikrit in Salah ad-Din province. The convoy was traveling south along Highway 1, known in American military parlance as Main Supply Route Tampa. The attack killed Spec. Alexander W. Missildine and wounded another soldier. The bombing occurred near Camp Speicher, the site of the Islamic State’s massacre of Iraqi Shiite air force recruits in 2014.
The United States recovered the vehicle and investigated the attack in an attempt to determine the perpetrator. The Government of Iraq will conduct a second investigation.
In a briefing today, Maj. Gen. Pat White, commanding general of CJFLCC-OIR, received many questions about the recent EFP attack and provided further details. The explosion occurred at a vulnerable dip in the road along Route Tampa, a location that has seen violence against civilians in the past few months. The EFP used was composed of steel, a slight anomaly as they are typically made of copper. Maj. Gen. White emphasized that the perpetrator remains unknown.
CIA Director Mike Pompeo alluded to Iranian involvement. The attack occurred in an area controlled by Iranian militias and the “design of weapon system points to a singular agent,” according to Saagar Enjeti, a journalist with whom Pompeo spoke.
Citing an anonymous US official, the Washington Post hypothesized that the Islamic State might have used a weapon associated with Iran in order to incriminate Iranian-aligned actors. The Islamic State has not, however, previously demonstrated EFP capability.
In his briefing today, General White emphasized that the Iranian-aligned Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) are a legitimate component of the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF). He described the PMF as “the fourth cohort of the ISF that are sanctioned by the Government of Iraq…they have been an integral part of the successes that the Iraqi Security Forces have had to date.” The PMF have benefited from American support to the ISF. The US has provided air power, Special Forces support, and training to the ISF. However, the PMF receives significant backing from Iran and its guerrilla forces, as its on-the-ground leadership is directly tied to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).
Alexandra Gutowski is a military affairs analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.