Despite U.S. assertions that the most lethal roadside bombs in Iraq are being imported from Iran, the U.S. military over the past year has increasingly found them being both assembled and manufactured in Iraq, officials tell NBC News.
At a briefing in Baghdad this month, U.S. officials publicly revealed for the first time what they called evidence that Iran was manufacturing explosively formed penetrators --EFPs -- a type of roadside bomb which has emerged as the biggest danger to U.S. troops here.
An intelligence analyst and explosives expert said they were being manufactured in machine shops in Iran and smuggled across the border to extremist Shiite groups. They were believed to be manufactured only in Iran, the analyst said.
This week, in the first statement of the kind, the coalition said Iraqi and U.S. forces had arrested two insurgents in an EFP workshop in a raid near Hilla south of Baghdad on February 17.
"The two were in the process of assembling EFPs," the military said.
Lt Gen. Raymond Odierno, commander of ground forces in Iraq, told NBC News this week that while the technology had initially come from Iran, it had since migrated.
"They initially started to come from Iran," said Odierno in an interview. "I think now we see some of the technologies -- some of the training -- being imported from Iran and probably being constructed here."
"I can't tell you they're exclusively coming from Iran," he said. "I will tell you that all the things, the indicators, that we have here [are] that the materials, the training and even a lot of the funding for the insurgency, for these types of technologies, are in fact coming from or being supported by the Quds force or other people from Iran."
EFP attacks on the rise
The Quds (Jerusalem) Force is an elite element of Iran's Revolutionary Guard. American officials have given conflicted accounts as to whether they believe they are acting on direct orders from Iranian leaders in the manufacture and supply of EFPs used to attack American troops here.
The U.S. military for the first time this month revealed that at least 170 U.S. troops had been killed and more than 620 wounded in EFP attacks since they saw the first one in 2004. They say EFP attacks -- which routinely kill three or four soldiers at a time -- have increased dramatically over the past year.
The distinctive feature of the bomb is a concave metal cap, usually copper. When the bomb is detonated the metal turns inward into a high-velocity ball of molten metal that can cut through a tank, experts say.
Officials say the EFPs are being machine-tooled in Iran and then smuggled across the border usually in component form. Some senior U.S. military officials, however, say although it has not been previously announced, U.S. forces have been finding an increasing number of the advanced roadside bombs being not just assembled but manufactured in machine shops here. "It (the impact) isn't as clean but they are almost as effective," one official said.
Other officials said they believed the Iraqi-made EFPs were considerably less lethal than the precision-tooled shaped charges smuggled from Iran but still a significant threat.
Iraqi officials have closed several of the border crossings with Iran to try to cut down on weapons smuggling across the border.
The U.S. military says most of the weapons are entering illegally through the official border crossings, which they say are understaffed and riddled with corruption. Smugglers use the official entry points because large parts of the border with Iran are riddled with land mines from the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war, officials say.