U.S. Launches Armed Force to Block Iranian Influence in Iraq
Corrected: 1/19/07, 3:55 p.m.
The U.S. military has launched a special operations task force to break up Iranian influence in Iraq, according to U.S. News sources. The special operations mission, known as Task Force 16, was created late last year to target Iranians trafficking arms and training Shiite militia forces. The operation is modeled on Task Force 15, a clandestine cadre of Navy SEALs, Army Delta Force soldiers, and CIA operatives with a mission to capture or kill al Qaeda operatives and Baathist insurgents in Iraq.
Task Force 15 killed al Qaeda's leader in Iraq, Abu Musab Zarqawi, last June.
The new classified directive is part of an escalation of military countermeasures against Iran, authorized by President Bush, to strike back at what military officials describe as a widespread web of Iranian influence in Iraq that includes providing weapons, training, and money to Shiite militias.
"It's present, and the issue is how do you deal with it," says a senior U.S. military official. "That's the question of the day. Those networks are something you've got to deal with. You've got to figure out, bottom line, who plans them, who finances them, who brings stuff across the borders."
Bush signaled the new get-tough stance toward Iran in his recent televised address on Iraq policy.
"We will disrupt the attacks on our forces," Bush said in his speech to the nation last week. "We'll interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria. We will seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq."
But the details have been sketchy on how that is being implemented.
U.S. Troops Grabbed Five Iranians
On the heels of Bush's speech, U.S. forces grabbed five Iranians with alleged ties to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps in the northern Iraqi city of Irbil, reportedly using stun bombs, seizing computers, and taking down an Iranian flag from the raided building's roof. Iran claimed the building was a consulate and the men were diplomats. One of Iraq's most powerful Shiite politicians condemned the raid, calling it an attack on Iraq's sovereignty.
Iran's efforts to foment chaos in Iraq are primarily carried out by the Iranian intelligence service and the Revolutionary Guards' al-Quds (Jerusalem) Brigade, the foreign operations arm of the Iranian military, which also supports Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Palestinian territories. The most visible Iranian political and militia involvement has been in predominantly Shiite southern Iraq, especially in and around the oil export city of Basra. Iran is also seen as a major backer of anti-American Iraqi Shiite leader Moqtada al Sadr and his Mahdi Army militia, blamed for abducting and killing Iraqi Sunnis.
The United States is trying to counteract the impression of being overtaxed by its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"The Iranians clearly believe that we are tied down in Iraq, that they have the initiative, that they are able to press us in many ways," Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said in Brussels on Monday.