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U.S. targets Iranian forces inside Iraq

U.S. targets Iranian forces inside IraqSource: Army Times, Aug 24, 2007
By William H. McMichael – Staff writer
  
A U.S. regional commander in Iraq said he is “actively targeting” as many as 20 members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps who are operating inside Iraq and helping Iraqi insurgents strike U.S. troops.

Army Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch said he calculates that about 50 individuals are actively working for the IRGC in his sector of Iraq, an area south of Baghdad that stretches from the border of Saudi Arabia to the border of Iran.

About 30 of the 50 are “surrogates,” presumably foreign nationals, who’ve been trained by the IRGC in Iran, Lynch said. But 20 are IRGC members who are “going back and forth” from Iran to Iraq, Lynch said.

“We’re working detailed targeting on all those people,” he said.

Since March 2006, U.S. military officials have asserted that Iranian paramilitary troops are providing munitions and assistance to Shiite insurgents in Iraq. They have kept up the drumbeat since, and President Bush has called on Iran to end the support.

Bush said in January that U.S. troops are authorized to kill or capture Iranian operatives in Iraq, but said that they would not be authorized to cross into Iran to do so.

Lynch also said he doesn’t want his troop strength reduced in the near term despite calls within Washington to begin withdrawing U.S. forces. “We’ve fought hard, with major cost to human life, to deny the enemy [its] sanctuaries,” he said. “And now we’re sitting on those sanctuaries.”

Responsibility for such areas can’t be turned over to the still-developing Iraqi Security Forces until they are fully ready to operate independently, Lynch said. “And that’s not going to happen between now and Christmas,” he said.

To help curb Iranian support for Iraqi insurgents, Lynch announced Friday that a contingent of 2,000 troops from the Republic of Georgia will soon be manning checkpoints along his sector’s 125-mile border with Iran in an effort to stem the flow of roadside bomb components, which he and other military officials have said are being supplied by the IRGC.

The Georgian troops have joined on the rest of their brigade already stationed in Wasit province and training for the mission, a Lynch spokeswoman said. They will help U.S. troops and Iraqi border police “thoroughly inspect every truck crossing along the main westbound route” from the sole Iran-Iraq border crossing in the province to Baghdad, Lynch said.

Military officials have said the IRGC is supplying to Iraqi insurgents components of deadliest roadside bombs, known as explosively formed penetrators, along with training and funding. Some of the weaponry ending up in the hands of Sunni insurgents and Shiite militias, Lynch said.

“We are finding Iranian-made munitions and weapons systems throughout our area,” Lynch said.

Lynch said his units have been struck by EFPs 48 times since April, killing eight U.S. soldiers. He said his forces have captured a total of 117 Iranian-made munitions in that timeframe, including nearly four dozen Iranian rockets that were prepped for launch and aimed at a U.S. base from a site in a town about 20 miles east of Baghdad.

On July 11, one of the rockets was launched at Forward Operating Base Hammer, killing a U.S. soldier and wounding 15 others, Lynch said. The rockets, first seen on a captured videotape, were located by an unmanned aerial vehicle operator after that launch; Lynch said. U.S. troops subsequently removed the remaining rockets.

Last weekend, Lynch said, Iraqi army scouts acting on a tip from civilians found a cache of Iranian mines near a U.S. camp.

Identification of the components of the rockets and the captured EFPs has been made by expert examination of tooling marks “that can only be created by machinery and capabilities coming out of Iran,” Lynch said.

Most of the munitions U.S. troops are finding in Lynch’s sector, however, do not originate in Iran; troops have found and cleared since April a total of 728 improvised explosive devices, Lynch said. All told, they have located and destroyed 248 weapons caches, he said.