America's top defense officials are frustrated with the flow of Iranian-made weapons into Iraq, where they're killing U.S. troops, but it doesn't appear as though anyone can do much about it. Secretary Panetta and Adm. Mullen both have complained publicly about Iranian-built bombs getting into the hands of Iraqi insurgents, and although they've warned the Iranians to knock it off, the fact that they're talking about it openly -- not acting covertly -- is probably a bad sign.
As Stripes' Kevin Baron reports, officials believe the attacks using Iranian weapons will get worse as more American troops come home. A senior defense official told reporters Iran wants to "bloody our noses," and try to take credit for pushing U.S. troops out, even though their departure has been in the works for years. Panetta said American commanders "would do everything that is necessary" to deal with the weapons, and declared the U.S. has "the authority to defend our people," but what options does he actually have?
Panetta was asked that question, and here's what he said, per the DoD transcript:
Well, I think -- the most important thing we can do now is to make sure that these weapons that are -- they’re pretty effective. They are -- they are assembled and put together but when those things fire off, they can have some pretty devastating power. I think the key right now is to go after them in Iraq and do what we can to prevent those weapons coming into Iraq and go after those groups that would make use of those weapons. That’s what the principal focus has to be on.No "warheads on foreheads," rhetoric, no "smoke 'em out of their holes" -- Washington is trying to extricate itself from its Middle East quagmires, not risk getting stuck in another by taking direct action against Iran, even though it's apparently responsible for many American deaths.
Q: No diplomatic message to Iran to prevent --
SEC. PANETTA: Obviously, whatever we can do diplomatically to send that message, we ought to do that as well.
What makes this even more frustrating to DoD officials is that the same thing is happening in Afghanistan, albeit with roadside bombs made in Pakistan. There too, commanders can't do much more than what they're already doing, trying to work with Pakistani counterparts to try to stem the flow of illegal weapons over the border. South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham asked Panetta about this during his confirmation hearing, and he gave much the same answer:
"What do I tell a family in South Carolina who’s lost a son or daughter in Afghanistan to an IED we know was made in Pakistan — and we can’t do a damn thing about it?" Graham asked.
Panetta's answer: "This is one of those situations that’s frustrating and angering and one where I think we’ve got to say to that family, we are not just walking away from that responsibility, but continuing to put pressure on those countries that are involved with that."