Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Evolving EFP Hype

The AP has a report today that's notable for a couple of reasons. I'll come to the secondary reason in a moment but the first is that the US military's position on EFP bombs in Iraq has gone through another sea-change, unremarked by the AP.

Today, the position is that Iran is training the insurgencies in the assembly, manufacture and use of these deadly bombs.

"We know that they are being in fact manufactured and smuggled into this country, and we know that training does go on in Iran for people to learn how to assemble them and how to employ them. We know that training has gone on as recently as this past month from detainees debriefs," Caldwell said at a weekly briefing.

..."We also know that training still is being conducted in Iran for insurgent elements from Iraq. We know that as recent as last week from debriefing personnel," he said.

"The do receive training on how to assemble and employ EFPs," Caldwell said, adding that fighters also were trained in how to carry out complex attacks that used explosives followed by assaults with rocket-propelled grenades and small arms.

"There has been training on specialized weapons that are used here in Iraq. And then we do know they receive also training on general tactics in terms of how to take and employ and work what we call a more complex kind of attack where we see multiple types of engagements being used from an explosion to small arms fire to being done in multiple places," he said.

The general would not say specifically which arm of the Iranian government was doing the training but called the trainers "surrogates" of Iran's intelligence agency.
Am I the only one to suspect that "surrogates" is being used as code for "we've no evidence of a direct link"? The borders in the area are porous and camps in Iran's wilderness have been used to train insurgents since the occupations inception, just as have camps in Saudi Arabia, Syria and further afield. Likewise, camps in out-of-the-way parts of Iraq have been used to train terrorists and insurgents who then go to Iran or Turkey to ply their trade. Maliki or Bush didn't order the set-up of these camps in Iraq nor order the training of the terrorists in them, but they still exist. There are still training camps for all kinds of white supremacists out in the backwoods of Texas. Does that mean Bush is ordering and directing the training of white supremacist militias?

And let us not forget that anything gained from detainees is suspect, since it has likely been gained using techniques which the Bush administration says aren't torture by virtue of a trick of redefinition but which would still convince a detainee to say the EFP's were being imported by Venusian Space Hamsters in stealthy UFO's if that's what the questioners wanted to hear.

But more importantly, one has to wonder why this intelligence gained from detainees that Iraqi's might be capable of assembling or even manufacturing their own EFP's wasn't mentioned before - say at the infamous Baghdad briefing. At that point the US military and the Bush administration were adamant that only Iran could have manufactured these weapons. Soon afterwards, independent defense experts like David Hambling and Michael Knights (the latter the world's foremost independent expert on EFP's and IED's) questioned that claim, saying such weapons could be easily manufactured in a decently equipped garage. The US military duly trotted out an expert to bolster their claims to the mainstream press - and the press didn't do their job of questioning that expert's assumptions - in particular the one that such devices only ever come from Iranian sources when it is clear that the IRA were first to use EFP's and spread the technology far and wide well before the invasion of Iraq.

By then, of course, EFP manufacturing sites were coming to light - all in Iraq, not Iran. CJR Daily helpfully listed them all just yesterday in a piece asking the Washington Post to stop repeating the US military line so uncritically.
It's true that the U.S. military has famously claimed that Iran is supplying Iraqi insurgents with these deadly explosively formed projectile (EFP) bombs, which, in terms of effectiveness, dwarf the usual IEDs that the insurgency has used for years--but this isn't the whole truth. Despite the Post's statement of fact, the realities on the ground are much more complicated than the paper is letting on, and to simply repeat the military's version of events is to do the truth a disservice.

We don't know whether Iran is supplying these weapons, but we do know that several "factories" where these EFPs are manufactured have been uncovered in Iraq in recent months, giving the story a dimension that the Post ignores.

Just last week, the New York Times reported that in the town of Diwaniya, "American and Iraqi forces uncovered an assembly area for the powerful roadside bombs known as explosively formed projectiles, the statement said. Four bombs were already assembled, it added, and others were in various stages of being put together."

What's more, in February Andrew Cockburn wrote in the Los Angeles Times that back in November, "U.S. troops raiding a Baghdad machine shop came across a pile of copper disks, 5 inches in diameter, stamped out as part of what was clearly an ongoing order. This ominous discovery, unreported until now, makes it clear that Iraqi insurgents have no need to rely on Iran as the source of EFPs."

And that's not all. The Wall Street Journal reported in February that another EFP "factory" was discovered in southern Iraq, and around the same time the New York Times threw some water on the U.S. military's claims that the bombs were coming exclusively from Iran, when a cache of EFP materials was found in Baghdad--all marked with stamps from countries around the Middle East, but not Iran.

None of this means that Iran isn't providing help--we're not in a position to know--but it does mean that the Post was sloppy with the facts on a subject that is profoundly important.
It is this chain of discoveries - flying in the face of the military's original claims that Iraqis were too stupid and un-technical to build such devices without outside help - that has forced this evolution in the spin. The spin is based upon what the military says detainees have said probably under torture. It's still just unsubtantiated BS.

Now - I said I would get to the other interesting part of the AP report. Well, it's the use of a very unproven source to back the US claims:
Commanders of a splinter group inside the Shiite Mahdi Army militia have told The Associated Press that there are as many as 4,000 members of their organization that were trained in Iran and that they have stockpiles of EFPs, a weapon that causes great uneasiness among U.S. forces here because they penetrate heavily armored vehicles.
Please note that the two commanders the AP quote so glibly, when they were first revealed to the world, refused to give their names to the AP for fear of retaliation from the Sadr hierachy. Does that sound like people who could retreat to their training base in Iran surrounded by thousands of loyal militiamen to you? (they mentioned only hundreds originally.) The AP really has no idea if these people are who they say they are. Their story has been confirmed, however, by the US spokesman for the anti-Iranian MeK terror group. I think the AP's been had. There are undoubtably splinters from the Mahdi Army but whether these guys are leaders of such a splinter or just an MeK plant is still up for grabs.

(Please also note the mainstream media's double standards of quite happily accepting the existence of splinter groups if the story is about Iran's training them but ignoring the possible existence of such groups when talking about the US fighting Sadrists in Diwaniyah even though the local Sadr office says that's exactly what is happening there.)