Posted by: sean | March 1, 2007

About those EFPs…

Via Juan Cole, a report that the US has been exaggerating the number of coalition deaths in Shi’a areas of Iraq:

Sunni Muslim insurgents remain by far the biggest threat to American troops in Iraq, despite recent U.S. claims that Iran is providing Shiite Muslim militia groups with a new type of roadside bomb, a review of American casualty reports shows.

While U.S. military officials have held briefings to publicize their concerns about the potent bombs known as explosively formed projectiles (EFPs) or penetrators, casualty reports suggest that such weapons in the hands of Shiite militias are responsible for a relatively small number of American deaths.

U.S. officials have said that attacks with such weapons increased 150 percent in the past year. But a review of bombings by location shows that less than 10 percent of attacks that killed at least two American service members in the past 14 months were in areas where Shiite militias are dominant.

Those reports show that fewer than half the bomb attacks on heavily armored U.S. vehicles such as Abrams tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles were in areas where Shiite militias dominate.

While it’s difficult to know which armed group planted a bomb, analysts say the casualty numbers show that U.S. officials are exaggerating the importance of EFPs, which military officials say have been used only by Shiites.

…Analysts say the evidence is far from clear that Iran could be the only source for the bomb components.

“Explosively formed penetrators are not some exclusive franchise for the Iranians,” Thompson said. “They are fairly common around the world.”

Explosively formed penetrators are also known as shaped charges. The warheads were developed after World War I to penetrate tanks and other armored vehicles. Rocket-propelled grenades and antitank missiles are conventional examples. Shaped charges also are used in the oil and gas industry.

John Pike, the executive director of GlobalSecurity.org, an online clearinghouse for military, intelligence and homeland-security information, said that while designing a shaped charge would require expertise, fabricating the devices was simpler, requiring only skill in using metal-machining tools.

“These are not factory-produced munitions,” he said.

Asked who’d have the expertise to manufacture a shaped charge, Pike cited “people who had worked with explosives in the petroleum industry.” In Iraq, he said, “there would be a fair number of those.”

…American casualty reports show that the deadliest roadside-bomb attacks of the war have occurred in predominantly Sunni areas or areas with mixed ethnic and religious populations.

Of the 81 roadside bomb attacks that killed two or more soldiers from December 2005 through January 2007, one-quarter occurred in western Iraq, which is predominantly Sunni, and nearly two-thirds took place in Baghdad and other ethnically and religiously mixed areas, the reports show. Fewer than 10 percent were in predominantly Shiite areas.

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