Lethal bomb that killed scores of troops reap­pears

The Columbus Dispatch - - Nation&world - By Ka­reem Fahim and Liz Sly

IRBIL, Iraq - A road­side bomb that killed an Amer­i­can sol­dier in Iraq ear­lier this month was of a par­tic­u­larly lethal de­sign not seen in six years, and its reap­pear­ance on the bat­tle­field sug­gests that U.S. troops could again be fac­ing a threat that be­dev­iled them at the height of the in­sur­gency here, U.S. mil­i­tary of­fi­cials said.

The de­vice was of a va­ri­ety known as an ex­plo­sively formed pen­e­tra­tor, or EFP, ac­cord­ing to ini­tial in­ves­ti­ga­tions, a weapon no­to­ri­ous for its de­struc­tive and deadly im­pact on ar­mored ve­hi­cles and the ser­vice mem­bers in­side them, two U.S. mil­i­tary of­fi­cials said.

EFPs were among the most lethal weapons faced by U.S. forces be­fore a troop with­drawal in 2011. The de­vices were con­sid­ered a hall­mark of the Ira­nian-backed Shi­ite mili­tias bat­tling the U.S. oc­cu­pa­tion af­ter the top­pling of Sad­dam Hus­sein. But the tech­nol­ogy used to make them pro­lif­er­ated, and cruder ver­sions were also de­ployed by Sunni mil­i­tants.

U.S. mil­i­tary of­fi­cials were quick to stress that they had not de­ter­mined who was re­spon­si­ble for the at­tack. The Is­lamic State mil­i­tant group - the only threat to U.S. and Iraqi troops over the past three years — was not known to have pre­vi­ously used the weapons, the of­fi­cials said, though they may have ac­quired the ex­per­tise to make them. The of­fi­cials talked about the in­ves­ti­ga­tion in re­sponse to ques­tions about the cir­cum­stances of the bomb­ing.

The Is­lamic State did not make any pub­lic claim of re­spon­si­bil­ity af­ter the at­tack, on Oct. 1, which killed Spec. Alexan­der W. Mis­sil­dine and wounded an­other sol­dier, ac­cord­ing to the U.S. mil­i­tary. At the time it was struck, Mis­sil­dine’s ve­hi­cle was trav­el­ing south on a ma­jor road in Salahud­din prov­ince, north of Bagh­dad, ac­cord­ing to Col. Charles D. Con­stanza, a deputy com­man­der for the U.S.-led coali­tion in Iraq.

Col. Ryan Dil­lon, a U.S. mil­i­tary spokesman in Iraq, said “in­ves­ti­ga­tions are con­tin­u­ing into the type and qual­ity of the bomb to bet­ter de­ter­mine where it orig­i­nated. To say whether or not ISIS did it or not — we have not de­ter­mined that yet. We are not rul­ing any­thing out,” he said.

The ques­tion of the type of bomb used and its ori­gin is sen­si­tive be­cause it comes amid an in­ten­si­fy­ing drive within the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion to counter the ex­pan­sion of Ira­nian in­flu­ence in the re­gion in re­cent years.

It also co­in­cides with threats from some of the Ira­nian-backed Shi­ite mili­tias who have fought in un­easy al­liance with the United States against the Is­lamic State but are mak­ing it clear that they want U.S. troops to leave now that the mil­i­tant group is al­most de­feated.

The Asaib Ahl al-Haq group, which claimed re­spon­si­bil­ity for car­ry­ing out many of the at­tacks against U.S. troops in the years be­fore 2011, said in a state­ment af­ter the re­cap­ture of Mo­sul in July that the “re­sis­tance fac­tions ex­pect their re­turn to the coun­try af­ter the de­feat of ISIS.”

“If they are go­ing to stay in any guise, the re­sis­tance fac­tions will deal with them as oc­cu­piers just like they dealt with them be­fore,” the state­ment warned. An­other group, Kataeb Hezbol­lah, is­sued a sim­i­lar warn­ing last month.

But it was also pos­si­ble that the weapon was used by the Is­lamic State or an­other armed group “mas­querad­ing” in or­der to im­pli­cate the Shi­ite mili­tias, said one U.S. of­fi­cial, who spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymity be­cause of the sen­si­tiv­ity of the sub­ject.

Dubbed “su­per­bombs” be­cause of their ex­tra­or­di­nary lethal­ity, EFPs are pre­ci­sion-made bombs with a cop­per or steel plate that is pro­pelled in the form of a pro­jec­tile whose high tem­per­a­ture and ve­loc­ity can pen­e­trate even the most heav­ily ar­mored ve­hi­cles.

The bombs showed up in Iraq about a year af­ter the U.S. in­va­sion. U.S. of­fi­cials at the time said they were be­ing sup­plied by Iran with the help of the Le­banese mil­i­tant group Hezbol­lah. Work­shops were sub­se­quently dis­cov­ered in Iraq, in­clud­ing in ar­eas where Sunni in­sur­gents were ac­tive, and as early as 2007, Iraq’s al-Qaeda af­fil­i­ate be­gan us­ing a crude ver­sion of the bomb.

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