Feb 6, 2007

The EFP as an Info-Op Prop

Interesting info on the propaganda meme that Iran is supplying a certain type of nasty IED to Iraqi malefactors:

Significantly Odierno did not claim that the anti-armor roadside bombs known as explosively formed projectiles (EFPs), which represent the most lethal armor-piercing technology now being used in Iraq, were manufactured in Iran. Instead, he asserted that the technology itself and "some of the elements to make them are coming out of Iran."

That has been the refrain of the Bush administration and the U.S. command for nearly a year. The Deputy Chief of Staff for intelligence of the Multinational Forces in Iraq, Major General Richard Zahner, gave a press conference last September in which he argued that Iran's culpability in the appearance of EFP technology is proven by the fact that the C-4 explosive used in EFPs in Iraq has the same Iranian batch number as the C-4 found on the Hezbollah ship carrying arms to Palestinian militants that was intercepted by the Israelis in 2003.

Zahner's assertion is contradicted, however, by the most in-depth study of the subject so far -- an article by Michael Knights published in Jane's Intelligence Review late last month. Knights, vice-president and head of analysis for the Olive Group, a private security company based in London, has been following the evolution of EFPs in Iraq for nearly three years.

In the article and in an interview with me, Knights suggested that the evidence does not point to Iran as the primary force behind the use of EFPs in Iraq. "There is no need to see an Iranian policy driving it," he told me. Knights said it is far more likely that Hezbollah policy drove the phenomenon. He points out that it was Hezbollah, not Iran, that transferred EFP devices and components to Palestinian militants after the second Intifada began in 2000.

The remarkable coincidence of the same batch number of C-4 appearing in the intercepted Hezbollah ship and in southern Iraq indicates that the Shiite militias have been getting supplies not from the Iranians, but from Hezbollah. (If Iran had deliberately shipped the explosive to southern Iraq last year, the batch number would have been different from a batch that was given to Hezbollah years earlier.)

In the article, Knights suggests that the number of Hezbollah specialists helping Iraqi Shiites learn to use the technology "need not have exceeded one or two bomb-makers," since the numbers of EFPs produced has rarely exceeded 100 per month. That number, he concludes, could have been made in a single modest workshop with one or two technicians.

Knights acknowledges that there is no direct evidence of even such a minimal Hezbollah presence. He infers such a presence from the fact that the technology did not appear in crude experimental form in Shiite areas of southern Iraq during the Sadrist uprising in 2004, but rather as a complex, fully developed technology.

U.S. intelligence has made much of the fact that a Hezbollah manual for making EFPs has been captured in Iraq. Knights notes, however, that the manual was actually found in the hands of Sunni insurgents. Knights says the Sunnis "might also have access to EFP expertise through Palestinian groups." The Sunnis used EFPs on a number of occasions, but most often have relied on the less powerful "shaped charges" that they appear to make themselves.

Regardless of how the technology was initially picked up by Shiite militants, Knights points out that the trend since early 2005 has been toward the emergence of networks of Shiites who make the EFPs themselves, supply them to Shiite militias, and serve as middlemen in importing both devices and components. The network of middlemen, according to Knights, is not aligned with any particular Shiite group and is typified by the one discovered by British forces in Basra in December 2006. It consisted of members of the Basra Police Intelligence Unit, the Internal Affairs Directorate of the police, and the Major Crimes Unit and was drawn from policemen representing every major Shiite faction in Basra.

Knights' research on EFPs illustrates that the Bush administration campaign to blame Iran for the Shiite use of modern weapons is based not on intelligence but rather, once again, on its own faith-based worldview. The syllogism underlying the anti-Iran campaign is: Hezbollah has been helping Shiites. Hezbollah is an Iranian proxy. Therefore, Iran is arming the Shiites. As Knights cautiously put it in the interview, "It may be that they are taking a data point and blowing it out of proportion."

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