U.S. Army says new arms cache shows link to Iran
In the latest attempt to link the deadliest form of roadside bombs in Iraq to components manufactured in Iran, U.S. Army officers Monday displayed plastic explosives they said were made in Iran and uncovered during a raid Saturday in violence-racked Diyala province.
An Army explosives expert said the C-4 plastic explosives were used to make bombs the military calls EFPs -- explosively formed projectiles. The explosives were found alongside enough bomb-making materials to build 150 EFPs capable of penetrating heavily armored vehicles, said the expert, Maj. Martin Weber.
Mortar rounds and rockets found in the same cache also were manufactured in Iran, Weber said. The cache included 150 machine-milled copper plates that form concave lids on the projectiles. When the weapons explode, those lids form balls of molten metal that can punch through the armor on vehicles.
The cache was part of what was believed to be the first EFP manufacturing site found in Iraq, officers said. They had previously assumed that most EFPs were assembled outside the country.
Officers said they did not know where the copper plates were manufactured, or by whom. They also said they could not prove who supplied the materials or who was building the EFPs.
The briefing was the third in two weeks in which U.S. military officials put forth evidence that they said showed Iran’s hand in Iraq’s violence. In contrast with previous sessions, officers at Monday’s display were careful not to accuse the Iranian government of involvement. U.S. officials have had to backtrack from previous assertions of direct involvement by Iran’s top government officials.
“I don’t think there’s any way for us to know if it’s tied to any government,” said Maj. Jeremy Siegrist, the executive officer of the unit that found the materials. “That’s a stretch too far.”
But by summoning reporters to the display and having Weber on hand to assert that some items came from Iran, the military retooled the way it presented its evidence of Iranian links.
In a first attempt to lay out a detailed case connecting Iran to the imported munitions earlier this month, military officials demanded anonymity and barred reporters from bringing cameras or tape recorders.
The Pentagon was forced to spend two weeks backtracking from that briefing after one of the unnamed officials claimed intelligence linked the central government in Tehran to the weapons. Pentagon officials were chagrined that public debate over the evidence focused more on the logistics of the briefing than on its content.
Weber said that technical expertise was required to cut, stamp and mill the copper plates, as well as to arm and trigger the EFPs. Iran has the necessary expertise, he said. That country provides weapons and technical support for the Islamic militant group Hezbollah, which has used similar explosive devices in southern Lebanon.
Referring to the C-4 explosives, rockets and mortar rounds, Weber said, “You can establish the country of origin, and that is a fact.”
Capt. Clayton Combs, the company commander whose 1st Cavalry unit uncovered what officers called “an IED factory,” said he found it “interesting” that explosives, rockets and mortar rounds from Iran were among the EFP-making materials. Asked to elaborate, Combs replied, “I’m not willing to go beyond that.”
A location in Hillah, south of Baghdad, where U.S. troops last week found a cache of EFP materials, was probably a transit point for materials to be assembled elsewhere, Weber speculated. The Hillah cache -- and many others found by U.S. troops -- included C-4 explosives made in Iran, Weber said.
Mortar rounds and rockets are commonly used in other types of IEDs, or improvised explosive devices. The rockets and mortar rounds found in Diyala, a province north of Baghdad, were manufactured in 2006 and 2002, respectively, officers said, and thus were not left over from the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s.
EFPs have killed at least 170 U.S. troops, according to U.S. officials. So far, 3,157 U.S. troops have died in the Iraq war, according to icasualties.org. The Bush administration is mounting a campaign to isolate and discredit Iran over its nuclear program and its role in Iraq. It has accused the Quds Force, a unit of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, of supporting Shiite Muslim attacks against U.S. forces in Iraq.
Siegrist said U.S. troops were tipped off about the bomb facility in Diyala by a resident. The materials were hidden in two freezers and a water container buried in a palm grove.
The cache included plastic plumbing pipes that formed EFP housings, along with metal rings used to secure the devices. Also found were detonation cord, blasting caps, fuses, voltage regulators and ball bearings.
On display Monday was a fully formed EFP, which Combs said had been found at the site, fitted with a C-4 charge. The device is the size and shape of a large coffee can. It was fitted with what Weber said was a sighting device and topped with a copper disk the size of a bread plate.
Also seized from the Diyala site were 15 122-millimeter rockets, two dozen 120-millimeter mortar rounds, mines, antiaircraft ammunition and rocket-propelled grenades, Combs said.
The most significant items were the copper plates, made from 5-millimeter copper sheets, Combs said.
“They’re the hardest part to make,” he said. “You need good quality copper and it has to be done just right, so this is a major find.”