U.S. special operations forces in Iraq developed an untraceable explosive device they nicknamed the Xbox to kill Iraqi Shiite militiamen smuggling roadside bombs from Iran to attack American troops, according to a new book.
Starting in about 2007, Army Delta Force commandos in a special task force in the war to oust Saddam Hussein used the bombs against Iranian collaborators whose improvised explosive devices were powerful enough to destroy the most heavily armored U.S. vehicles, Sean Naylor wrote in “Relentless Strike: The Secret History of Joint Special Operations Command.”
The Xbox bomb “was designed to look and behave exactly like one made by Iraqi insurgents” with a hodgepodge of Russian, Chinese and Pakistani-made parts, wrote Naylor, a contributing editor at Foreign Policy. The intent was that if the device were sent to the FBI for analysis, even its experts “would mistakenly trace the bomb back” to a particular terrorist bomb maker, he said.
Using the bomb -- with a nickname presumably inspired by Microsoft Corp.’s video game device -- the command “found a way around the political restrictions by killing its enemies without leaving any U.S. fingerprints,” according to the book.
The U.S.-made bombs killed a small number of Iranian collaborators, mostly in southern Iraq, and possibly some members of the Quds Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, according to Naylor.
The killings were carried out by Delta commandos belonging to a “Task Force 17.” It was set up in early 2007 by Army General Stanley McChrystal, then commander of the Joint Special Operations Command, to target the Shiite militias smuggling components or entire “explosively formed penetrators” that could destroy the most fortified U.S. vehicles.
Asked to comment about the Xbox account, Ken McGraw, a spokesman for the U.S. Special Operations Command, said “we are not going to comment on or discuss specific information in Mr. Naylor’s book.”
The Iranian devices were the deadliest roadside bombs used against U.S. troops in Iraq, starting in 2005, according to officials. In 2006, the U.S. said the Quds Force was providing the devices. Iranian leaders denied the allegations.
Naylor said in an e-mail that “my best estimate is that the device had its genesis in the 2005-2006 period, but was used in Iraq beyond that.”
“I don’t know of any Iranian Quds Force operatives being killed, but I can’t say categorically that none were killed using it,” Naylor said.
Planting the Bomb
Planting the device, usually in a suspect’s car, involved days of surveillance “so that the operators could predict when they were able to gain access to his vehicle unobserved,” Naylor wrote. Delta operators detonated the bombs when the target was isolated from Iraqi civilians and U.S. personnel.
Not everyone agreed with the weapon’s use. It was “a great tool, but as many of us have said, ‘Hey, we’re no different than the enemy if we’re just blowing people up with booby traps,’” one member of the Navy’s Seal Team Six said, according to the book.
McChrystal wrote in his 2013 memoir, “My Share of The Task,” that “the sympathy and active support that hard-line, Iranian-backed Shia militia enjoyed from Iranian officials at the highest levels meant our raids sent us wading into a murky world of politics.” He didn’t mention the Xbox killings.
Asked about them, McChrystal said in an e-mail that he “had nothing to contribute on the subject.”
Now U.S. troops are back in Iraq advising government forces fighting Islamic State, and they’re trying to keep their distance from Shiite militias backed by the same Iranian Quds force that was responsible for the roadside bombs.