Marine Corps General Joseph Dunford, Obama’s nominee for chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Congress last week that the deaths of 500 soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan could be attributed to Iran.
On Wednesday, the Military Times highlighted an exchange from General Dunford’s confirmation hearing last week. Senator Tom Cotton, a leading critic of President Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran, asked General Dunford how many deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan were attributable to intervention by Iran. Dunford replied, “I know the total number of soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines that were killed by Iranian activities, and the number has been recently quoted as about 500. We weren’t always able to attribute the casualties we had to Iranian activity, although many times we suspected it was Iranian activity even though we didn’t necessarily have the forensics to support that.”
Most of the casualties attributed to Iran are the result of a deadly type of roadside bomb known as an explosively formed penetrator (EFP). These bombs were manufactured in Iran and brought to Iraq for use against U.S. troops. The bombs used an explosion to create a slug of molten copper which could penetrate the armor of most U.S. vehicles. During 2006 and 2007 they were the most deadly bombs used against U.S. troops in Iraq.
Other recent estimates of the number of deaths attributable to Iran have been higher. A report published in March of this year by two former UK commanders concluded, “Iranian military action, often working through proxies using terrorist tactics, has led to the deaths of well over a thousand American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan over the last decade and a half.” The same report notes Iran was also connected to a large shipment of high-end Austrian-made sniper rifles recovered in Iraq.
Javad Zarif, recently the lead negotiator for Iran on the nuclear deal, was Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations at the time this was going on. He became a leading voice disputing Iran had any weapons in Iraq. In an interview with NPR in February 2007 he said, ” the United States has decided on a policy and is trying to find or fabricate evidence if it cannot find one.” Two days later the Pentagon gave an intelligence briefing in Baghdad at which it displayed EFP devices with Iranian serial numbers. The day after that was the day a cache of 100 .50 caliber sniper rifles were discovered in Iraq and traced to Iran.
General Dunford’s remarks about Iran were overshadowed last week by another statement he made in the same hearing. Asked to identify the top global threats to the United States, Dunford cited Russia as the greatest existential threat, harkening back to comments made by Mitt Romney during the 2012 election. At the time, President Obama mocked Romney’s assessment, saying during one of the presidential debates, “The 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back because the Cold War has been over for 20 years.”