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January 18, 2007
Task Force 16 Takes On Iranian Influence

In another indication that the Bush administration has more than just one use for the extra troops going to Iraq, US News and World Report has an exclusive on a heretofore clandestine unit tasked with dismantling Iran's web of influence in Baghdad and greater Iraq. Task Force 16, modeled on the group that eventually took out Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, has operated in Iraq for most of the past year, collecting intelligence and now starting covert operations based on their data:

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.">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."

This comes as no surprise, except perhaps for the extent to which Task Force 16 has already established itself. The troops know the extent of Iranian influence, just based on the armaments they find deployed against them. Roadside bombs have increasingly been a type known as explosively formed projectiles, or EFP. Iran produces these to puncture through armor, on Humvees in this case, in order to maximize casualties. US military personnel started seeing EFPs in the south, but they have begun seeing them in Baghdad and Diyala, two areas where Shi'ite militias operate in strength. They have also captured Iranian mortars and Iranian cellphones, found on militia members that only speak Farsi instead of the Iraqi strain of Arabic.

While Bush cannot just expand the war to Iran absent an immiment threat or a declaration of war from Congress, the authorization for the use of military force in Iraq certainly covers any forces in that nation that attack our troops or those of the Iraqi government. He has all the latitude he needs to fight Iranians in Iraq, within the rules of war. Politically, fighting Iranians makes a better argument for a surge/escalation in the regions where Shi'ite militias rely on Iranian support the most -- but that's probably only a marginal improvement at this stage.

That also explains why US News and World Report has this exclusive now. The White House has taken a lot of criticism for its refusal to negotiate with Iran in order to achieve stability in Iraq. The Bush administration has countered that demand from the ISG and others by saying that the Iranians have acted to destabilize Iraq, in some cases funding both Shi'ite and Sunni militias to fight each other. He wants to show the extent of Iranian mischief in the current instability there -- or at least if he's forced to negotiate, he wants a stronger position when he gets to the table.

Again, the existence of a unit like Task Force 16 should surprise no one. However, it does confirm that the Bush administration clearly sees the situation in Iraq in more pessimistic terms than just a few months ago, and the new leadership at the Pentagon and CENTCOM has begun to get more aggressive on the ground -- and perhaps in the media as well.

UPDATE: Corrected one instance of "Iraq" to "Iran", courtesy of CQ commenter Burt.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at January 18, 2007 6:07 PM

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