Iranian-linked bomb kills American soldier in Iraq

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.

4 Comments

  • Eric Biegala says:

    “The Islamic State has not, however, previously demonstrated EFP capability”.
    Well I saw a dozen manufactured EFPs in an ISIS recently vacated factory in Bashiqa (12 km east of Mossul) last november. Half of them with copper, the other half with steel.
    I guess everybody in Iraq knows how to manufacture those…

  • Birbal Dhar says:

    More likely ISIS just copied the tactics and don’t forget there are many Iranian Sunnis in ISIS who could have learnt this whilst doing military conscription in Iran.

  • I still believe that especially now after not recertifying the Iranian deal, Iran will start having it’s proxies start attacking U.S. interests in Iraq as well as undermining any influence we have. It will also tear away any western leaning ideologies.

  • Glenn says:

    Irony. Swanson Middle School is in the middle of Arlington, VA, a quiet next-to-DC city for military and civilian workers, home to the Pentagon, Arlington Cemetery, Homeland Security, and a host of other agencies, lobbyists, and major contractors. I was head of the science club there in 1961, and had gotten a speaker from the Army at Ft. Meade, where my dad worked, to come by and give us a lecture. He was clearly unprepared, and rambled on about this and that, and then opened the floor up for questions. Someone asked him how a bazooka worked. And so he quietly but thoroughly and simply told everyone listening how to make an EFP, describing the upgraded bazooka that behaved more like a RPG. From packing the C4, different parabolas, focusing the shock wave, the slight delay to allow the armor to be pierced so the hot copper/gases could zip in for the kill, … everything. Everyone (mostly boys) were totally fascinated. He then did a compare/contrast with Claymore mines, at which time the science teacher/monitor shut him down. The Iranians have added remote controls, and up-sized the basic design to get thru the Israeli and US counter-armor.

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