After weeks of controversy linked to the Iran nuclear deal, U.S. military officials disclosed previously classified data showing that 196 American troops were killed by improvised explosive devices made in Iran, far fewer than the figure of 500 deaths publicly discussed this summer.
The data released by U.S. Central Command shows that 196 U.S troop fatalities from the tail end of 2005 through 2011 were directly attributed to "explosively formed penetrators," or EFPs, a distinctly deadly type of bomb used by the Iranian-backed Shiite militias during the Iraq War following the 2003 U.S. invasion.
The data also shows that 861 American troops were wounded over that timeframe by Iranian-made EFPs, and that the EFP attacks peaked in the spring of 2008.
Throughout the summer, officials in Washington, including Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, referred to undisclosed data showing that 500 American troops deaths in Iraq were directly linked to Iran.
But while deaths caused by EFPs are much lower, a CENTCOM official told Military Times that the 500 figure also is accurate in the sense that it includes deaths caused by Iranian-made rockets and other airborne weapons known as "improvised rocket-assisted munitions," or IRAMs, also dubbed "lob bombs."
CENTCOM officials released the data in early September, shortly after a lawmakers vowed to support the nuclear deal negotiated between Iran and the Obama administration and other Western countries in sufficient numbers to block congressional rejection.
The deal will restrict Iran's ability to maintain a nuclear weapons program in exchange for lifting the economic sanctions that have crippled the Iranian economy.
The issue of U.S. deaths linked to Iran during the Iraq War first emerged in July during the confirmation hearing for Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford, who will be the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs.
In response to a direct question about deaths attributed to Iranian activity, Dunford replied: "the number has been recently quoted as about 500. We weren't always able to attribute the casualties we had to Iranian activity, although many times we suspected it was Iranian activity even though we didn't necessarily have the forensics to support that."
The statistic was repeatedly highlighted by opponents of the Iran nuclear deal as an example of how Iran exports terrorism and destabilizes the region, which opponents argue could expand if international sanctions are lifted.
In an email to Military Times, a Cruz spokesman said the details of the data do not change the senator's view that the Iran nuclear deal is bad for the region and will empower one of Iran's most notorious leaders, Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, the commander of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Quds Force.
"Whether the number is 500 lives or 196 or anywhere in between is immaterial; the fact remains that General Soleimani — a man responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American service members — will receive sanctions relief to the tune of millions of dollars if the Iran deal is approved," said Phil Novack, Cruz's press secretary.
Andrew Tilghman is the executive editor for Military Times. He is a former Military Times Pentagon reporter and served as a Middle East correspondent for the Stars and Stripes. Before covering the military, he worked as a reporter for the Houston Chronicle in Texas, the Albany Times Union in New York and The Associated Press in Milwaukee.