Suspected Shiite militiamen have begun using powerful rocket-propelled bombs to attack U.S. military outposts in recent months, broadening the array of weapons used against American troops.
U.S. military officials call the devices Improvised Rocket Assisted Munitions, or IRAMs. They are propane tanks packed with hundreds of pounds of explosives and powered by 107mm rockets. They are often fired by remote control from the backs of trucks, sometimes in close succession. Rocket-propelled bombs have killed at least 21 people, including at least three U.S. soldiers, this year.
The latest reported rocket-propelled bomb attack occurred Tuesday at Joint Security Station Ur, a base in northeastern Baghdad shared by U.S. and Iraqi soldiers. One U.S. soldier and an interpreter were wounded in the attack.
U.S. military officials say IRAM attacks, unlike roadside bombings and conventional mortar or rocket attacks, have the potential to kill scores of soldiers at once. IRAMs are fired at close range, unlike most rockets, and create much larger explosions. Most such attacks have occurred in the capital, Baghdad.
First of all, saying that they have "begun" to use these weapons is a misnomer--just by doing some quick research, I've found people talking about these incidents as far back as October, 2007.
Rockets fired at COP Cashe; 1 rocket seized (1)
A robot controlled by Soldiers from the 789th Ordnance Company, from Fort Benning, Ga., currently attached to the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, investigates an Iranian 107mm rocket at a launch site Oct. 23 . Five rockets were fired at Combat Outpost Cashe from the site, but no soldiers were injured. Only one rocket managed to land inside the outpost perimeter. Date: 10/30/07
You can see that a weapon like that is relatively easy to transport, aim and fire at our troops and that it could easily be smuggled in a car. Add some propane tanks, and you're in business.
The question I always as, is this really a brand new phenomenon?
A June report on the Web site Long War Journal called the explosives-filled propane tanks "flying IEDs."
Militia members and insurgents have at times increased the sophistication of their weapons, but the rocket-propelled bombs are makeshift devices that also have been used in recent years by insurgents in Colombia. Propane tanks are ubiquitous in Iraq, where the fuel is widely used for cooking, making it hard for security forces to stop production of the bombs.
We always seem to be repeating our mistakes--here's a photo from the Vietnam War of a US soldier holding the remains of a 107mm rocket:
And much about what we learned about IEDs in the Vietnam War could have been applied to what we face today in Iraq. The difference is a technological one, not a philosophical one. Granted, adding propane tanks seems to be all the rage in Iraq since that's what the general population uses. I just hate to see us repeating our mistakes and failing to anticipate what's around the corner.