107mm improvised rocket-assisted mortar (IRAM) captured in Iraq
Wired’s Danger Room describes the circumstances of the Taliban ambush which on August 6 took down an American CH-47 helicopter carrying 22 Navy SEALs, 8 other Americans and 8 Afghans, and the same article was the first public reference to insider speculation that an Iranian-supplied IRAM may have been used to attack the helicopter.
Details of the shoot-down are slowly emerging. â€œThere will be multiple investigations,â€ a Special Operations Command official said.
Sometime late Friday, it appears, a team of U.S. Army Rangers got pinned down by insurgent fighters during a patrol in Wardak, a province just south of Kabul that, along with neighboring Logar province, is a major staging area for the Taliban and other insurgent groups.
The Rangers called in their â€œImmediate Reaction Force,â€ a helicopter-borne mobile reserve that orbits nearby during risky patrols. That day, IRF duty had fallen to the Navy SEALs and their attachments, part of the 10,000-strong Afghanistan-based Joint Special Operations Command task force that, in addition to killing Osama bin Laden in May, also conducts as many as 70 raids per day in Afghanistan and Pakistan. In 2,800 raids between April and July, JSOC captured around 2,900 insurgents and killed more than 800, military sources said. Thatâ€™s twice as many raids compared to the same period a year ago.
Normally, JSOC commandos ride in tricked-out helicopters â€” including stealth models â€” belonging to the Armyâ€™s 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment. But this weekend the SEALs hitched a ride in what was apparently a run-of-the-mill Army National Guard chopper.
With the SEALsâ€™ help, the Rangers fought back against their ambushers. Eight insurgents died in the fighting, according to a Taliban spokesman. Believing the battle over, around 3 in the morning local time, the SEALs and their allies climbed back into their CH-47 for the ride home. Thatâ€™s when all Hell broke loose.
â€œThe Taliban knew which route the helicopter would take,â€ one unnamed Afghan official tells AFP. â€œThatâ€™s the only route, so they took position[s] on the either side of the valley on mountains and as the helicopter approached, they attacked it with rockets and other modern weapons.â€
â€œIt was a trap that was set by a Taliban commander,â€ the official added. …
The cause of the CH-47 crash is still under investigation. â€œThe helicopter was reportedly fired on by an insurgent rocket-propelled grenade,â€ according to a coalition press release. Which weapon â€” or weapons â€” were actually responsible for the copter coming down is not yet known. Several publications claim an insurgent Rocket-Propelled Grenade struck the helicopter.
One Army insider who spoke to Danger Room went a step further, saying the rocket may have been a special improvised model. A chopper-killer, if you will.
The so-called â€œImprovised Rocket-Assisted Mortarâ€ made its debut in Iraq in 2008, although not in attacks on aircraft. IRAMs combine traditional tube mortars with rocket boosters and, in many cases, remote triggers, allowing insurgents to fire them from a distance.
IRAMs have killed several U.S. troops in Iraq over the years; in June, the weapons killed six Americans. but havenâ€™t factored heavily in the Afghanistan fighting. The weaponâ€™s appearance in Wardak, if confirmed, could be proof of Afghan insurgentsâ€™ continued ability to adapt and innovate despite mounting losses.
Improvised rockets are notoriously inaccurate. But with bigger warheads than shoulder-fired RPGs, IRAMs are potentially much more destructive when they do hit.
On CNN: Frances Fragos Townsend, a former Bush Administration Deputy National Security Advisor and Homeland Security Advisor, and novelist Brad Thor, around 2:51, begin discussing the possibility that Iranian spies in the Afghan government may have assisted the Taliban in ambushing the SEALs as well as the possible use of an Iranian-supplied IRAM, “a flying IED.”
Further support for the IRAM theory and that of direct Iranian involvement is supplied by the fact that left-wing Intel blogger Jeff Stein found it desirable to pooh-pooh the speculation and insult the expertise of the security experts interviewed on CNN.
I’d quote him if Stein had anything substantive to say, but his blog post is really just a slam piece offering nothing but arrogance, abuse, and self-advantageous subjectivity.
Stein is then seconded by Salon’s resident Islam-apologist Justin Elliott who informs us that Wardak province is nearer to Pakistan than Iran (clearly establishing Iran’s innocence of any role in mischief in that neighborhood).
He then clutches at a straw from the original Wired article, leaning heavily on a statement from Brigadier General Carsten Jacobsen that â€œWeâ€™re not seeing any specific new types of weapons on the battlefield.â€ But Wired makes it clear that it is uncertain whether IRAMs would have been considered “new weapons” by the general.
Elliott then cites Stein as an authority, and concludes by dismissing what he calls “the campaign to blame Iran” which he describes as “baseless.”
We are obviously talking in this case about rumors and speculations, which are bound to be unsupported by hard evidence, since the US Government is not necessarily willing to share all it knows publicly. But such speculations are far from baseless. Iran is extremely interested in doing whatever harm it can to the United States. Iran is clearly actively supporting the insurgency in Afghanistan, just as it has done in Iraq. The Afghan government and military are well-known to be riddled with corruption. The destruction of a large Chinook helicopter by a lucky hit with an RPG is possible, but would have had to have been a very lucky hit. It would be much easier to knock down a large aircraft using a munition carrying a more powerful explosive charge. Iran has supplied IRAMs in large quantity to its surrogates in Iraq, and senior Iranian QUDS Force officers have been captured operating with insurgents in Iraq by US troops and later released.
The rumors are unproven and unprovable to those of us outside official circles, but there isn’t anything baseless about any of this.