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October 25, 2004
380 Tons Of Explosives Missing -- But When?

The New York Times has created a storm of controversy with its lengthy and detailed reporting of 380 tons of high explosives that disappeared from the Al-Qaqaa munitions bunker in Iraq (also CNN):

The Iraqi interim government has warned the United States and international nuclear inspectors that nearly 380 tons of powerful conventional explosives - used to demolish buildings, make missile warheads and detonate nuclear weapons - are missing from one of Iraq's most sensitive former military installations.

The huge facility, called Al Qaqaa, was supposed to be under American military control but is now a no man's land, still picked over by looters as recently as Sunday. United Nations weapons inspectors had monitored the explosives for many years, but White House and Pentagon officials acknowledge that the explosives vanished sometime after the American-led invasion last year.

However, that last statement isn't quite accurate. The Administration acknowledged that it disappeared after the last IAEA inspection, which occurred before the invasion. After the US invaded Iraq and visited Al-Qaqaa, they checked for but saw no IAEA seals and bypassed the bunker for more critical missions. That difference is critical, as it directly impacts on who moved the munitions, when, and to where. Many have speculated that the WMD Saddam supposedly retained made its way to Syria in a series of truck convoys spotted just before the invasion began, and Syria has not allowed weapons inspectors to determine whether they have Saddam's WMD. If the WMD did not exist, the trucks could have hauled the contents of Al-Qaqaa just as easily, and far less traceably.

No one doubts that 380 tons of high-tech explosive is a big, big problem. But the Times article fails to put the issue into its proper perspective; the US and its coalition partners have been securing and destroying loose munitions ever since the invasion, as fast as they can. My friend Mike, a Navy SEAL and a contractor in Iraq, worked on this mission during his time there, and described the process in his letters home to his son:

When Daddy first came to Iraq it was estimated that there was more than 2 million tons of ammunition stored in hundreds of storage places called caches. We may not have that much ammunition in our own country.

Most of this ammunition could not even be used by the Iraqi military under Saddam Hussein and most has no use to the new military of Free Iraq. Saddams corrupt government sold or gave lots of it away to terrorists. Today terrorists try to steal the ammunition, so they can use it to kill innocent people.

Some of it is used to make bombs that they plant in places where there are a lot of people. Other ammunition, like this rocket, is ready to launch right out of the container. These kinds of rockets are launched on our bases and convoys by bad people every day.

So Daddys team goes to where the ammunition is and we keep it safe until big trucks come. Then we go out to the desert far away from people and stack the ammo close together, we prime it with special explosives ... and then we blow it up.

So let's keep in mind that when we're talking about 380 tons of ammunition, it represents 0.019% of the estimated amount of explosives and munitions that confronted the US at the beginning of the invasion. As Mike makes clear, it will take years to find, secure, and destroy all of these caches, and the Coalition had to prioritize the sites very quickly on their arrival. Absent any IAEA seals, they did what common sense dictated: the US moved its troops into positions where they could fight the enemy and secure communications.

Most egregiously, the failure to protect less than 0.02% of the total estimated munitions in Iraq has been seized upon by Kerry's campaign as an example of "incompetence":

Reacting to the IAEA announcement on Monday, Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry said the "incredible incompetence of this president and this administration has put our troops at risk and put this country at greater risk than we ought to be."

These hysterical ravings from the Democrats should convince voters that anyone this panicky cannot possibly be trusted with any kind of command authority over our military, let alone guide us in an asymmetrical war with Islamic terrorists and the countries that sponsor them.

UPDATE: The guys at Pandagon have a rather juvenile response:

Only .02% of all explosives...wow. In 2001, there were 5,967,780 flights. The September 11th attacks constituted four of those. That constitutes a proportion so infinitessimally small that it's almost like none of the flights in 2001 were hijacked at all - it's like the attacks never happened.

Why doesn't anyone ever focus on the fact that 99.9999994% (or so) of all flights in America in 2001 were perfectly safe? Why are we so preoccupied with those oh-so-few flights that killed a few thousand people?

Um...yeah, congratulations, Jesse -- now you understand why playing defense against these terrorists is so frickin' stupid. You can't possibly guarantee total security in such a vast aviation industry, so rather than wait for the terrorists to come after you, you go after them first -- the terrorists and everyone who funds and shelters them. You force them to come out in their backyard to minimize the chances that they'll come into yours.

Putting aside the fact that no one knows when these munitions disappeared, the fact that they were still there after 12 years of UN inspections and sanctions establishes the futility of the entire UNSCOM process. (They left them piled up in these bunkers because Saddam told them he would use them in civilian construction projects. Really.) And if we hadn't invaded Iraq, we wouldn't be faced with 380 tons of missing munitions -- we'd be facing the entire stockpile of 2 million tons, distributed to whomever Saddam pleased.

If we capture, control, and destroy 99.98% of all the munitions in Iraq, I'd say we'd done a pretty good job. I'd like it to be perfect, and I'd like to hear specifically how the Pandagon gang would guarantee that.

UPDATE II: Goodness, I love being proved right:

NBC News: Miklaszewski: April 10, 2003, only three weeks into the war, NBC News was embedded with troops from the Army's 101st Airborne as they temporarily take over the Al Qakaa weapons installation south of Baghdad. But these troops never found the nearly 380 tons of some of the most powerful conventional explosives, called HMX and RDX, which is now missing. The U.S. troops did find large stockpiles of more conventional weapons, but no HMX or RDX, so powerful less than a pound brought down Pan Am 103 in 1988, and can be used to trigger a nuclear weapon. In a letter this month, the Iraqi interim government told the International Atomic Energy Agency the high explosives were lost to theft and looting due to lack of security. Critics claim there were simply not enough U.S. troops to guard hundreds of weapons stockpiles, weapons now being used by insurgents and terrorists to wage a guerrilla war in Iraq. (NBCs Nightly News, 10/25/04)

So we were there on April 10, 2003, and the HMX and RDX were already gone -- which was why the IAEA seals were broken. And why do we know this? Because NBC was embedded with the troops and saw it for themselves.

Do you suppose the New York Times will run a front-page article with that information for tomorrow's edition? Doubtful.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at October 25, 2004 12:02 PM

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