While serving in Iraq in 2008 and 2009, my reconnaissance platoon was assigned an unusual mission a few months into our deployment. We were to move into the southeastern Maysan province, an area where Iranian-backed Shiite militias were freely moving weapons, fighters, and material from Iran into Iraq.
There was little Coalition presence in Maysan since the British departed in 2006 and Shia militiamen loyal to Moqtada al-Sadr were enjoying freedom to maneuver in the province. Our platoon, with a Cavalry squadron and field artillery battalion, moved into the province and built a forward operating base and numerous combat outposts.
The mission was straightforward: stop the weapons-smuggling across the Iraq-Iran border and defeat the insurgency in the area. It was no secret that the militias we were fighting were backed by Iran and the Iranians on the other side of the border were not friendly in our frequent cross-border exchanges with them.
The weapon of choice for the groups of Iranian-backed fighters we faced was the explosively formed penetrator (EFP). Its copper disc would become molten hot after the IED was detonated, creating a missile of fire that would melt through the armor on our vehicles. We lost two soldiers to these devices during our deployment and it’s well known that this terrifying weapon came from Iran. Our forward operating bases and combat outposts were frequently attacked by rockets, including 240mm Fajr-3 rockets, which undoubtedly also came from Iran.
The Pentagon now estimates that Iran was responsible for the deaths of at least 603 American troops in Iraq. That’s one in every six American combat fatalities. The United States still has roughly 5,000 troops in Iraq and Iranian-backed militias are active in the country after helping the Coalition fight ISIS. The threat posed by Iranian proxy forces to Americans in Iraq continues to be real and any step taken by the White House and Pentagon to meet this threat feels appropriate based on my experience there.