More thoughts on the explosives story . . .
A few readers criticized my comment that I can't fault the Bush administration for not securing the explosives that were mentioned in the NYTimes story yesterday. I'd like to give a little more detail about this. Let me start by saying that I am in absolute agreement with those who think the Bush Administration did a poor job of planning for the occupation of Iraq and the postwar phase. The CPA and Jay Garner got off to a very slow start -- they didn't have enough communication assets, vehicles, translators, or people. Garner eventually quit or was fired, and was replaced by Bremer, who still managed to drift for awhile. This was bad because politics abhors a vacuum. The lack of a plan for getting from A (invasion) to B (a new Iraqi government, preferably elected) created a sense that as far as the political sphere went, Iraq was ripe for the plucking, and therefore many of the insurgent groups coalesced. Sadr's militia for example probably wouldn't have gotten so powerful had there been a clear idea from the start of how the occupation was going to go and what the plan was for getting Iraqis to elections. You can blame this on whatever you want: -arrogance or optimism on the part of the Administration -the fact that we just don't occupy other countries very often (not on this scale and with this intent) and weren't very good at planning for it. -disputes between Defense and State -Halliburton (note: This is only a reason for readers of the Daily Kos) Bottom line: big error and it has cost us. But wars are filled with errors. Many much larger than this one. Kerry can criticize all he wants, but he has no strategic vision. Back to the issue at hand. I still stand by what I said about not blaming the Bush Administration that 400 tons of explosives may have disappeared in Iraq after the invasion (the Times article makes it clear they could have been moved before). Here's why I'm sticking to my story: In the Marine Corps, I was a Combat Engineer officer. I've had what you could call basic to intermediate training in explosives, as have all Marine engineers. As I mentioned in my previous post, my unit was once involved with trying to safeguard a large weapons cache by building fortifications around it so that explosives could not be looted. We got about halfway done before an Army MP attached to an assisting unit tragically blew himself up in one of the bunkers, and the entire cache sympathetically detonated. The site was huge: off the top of my head, I'd say between 5-10 square kilometers. And the explosives were not stored in a safe way that the EPA would be happy with. These sites were EVERYWHERE in Iraq, and filled with all kinds of stuff. Just to seal off this one was taking us about 2 weeks if memory serves. There are really three ways to deal with sites like this: 1. You can guard them. This is extremely manpower-intensive, so much so that it is impractical. 2. You can somehow construct obstacles to keep looters or ne'er-do-wells out. This is very time-intensive. 3. You can destroy the sites. This is the most time-intensive due to your main constraint: there are not very many military personnel or units with the proper training to do this. A note on #3: Sounds easy to say, "We could just bomb it," but this is not a solution. Bombing a site like this has the potential to leave shrapnel and duds scattered over an even larger area than when you started. Bombing might be a solution if you are just flying over, maybe doing a punitive strike, but it won't work if your people are there and are attempting to reconstruct the place. A word on Explosives Ordnance Disposal Technicians: These are the guys who do this stuff. In the Marine Corps, first you take a junior NCO, usually a Corporal who has kept his nose clean, is in excellent physical shape, and is smarter than the average bear, then you send him to explosives related schools for about a year or so. Then he spends a year in the fleet working with more senior techs before you can really say that he has cut his teeth enough to give you good advice on what to do with a certain piece of ordnance. EOD techs are very well trained and very good at what they do. There are also very few of them. I'd guess under a thousand in the whole Marine Corps. They are among the most often deployed Marines. It is not uncommon for an EOD tech to deploy 300 days out of the year. And in OIF, we had, say, 60% or so of those attached to the First Marine Expeditionary Force (about 60,000-70,000 Marines). They were exceptionally busy. Now, let me give you an idea of how much explosives there are in Iraq. Let's say you took the ENTIRE Marine Corps, 177,000 strong, and made them all EOD techs and sent them all to Iraq. My guess is you might be done with cleaning the place out in about a year or so, if you did it safely. The Army has had at least a BATTALION (600-800) of EOD techs in Iraq since earlier in the year, and they have been assisted by, I think, two battalions (2000 or so) of engineers, and have been working non-stop cleaning up munitions and securing them. Since the war started, the total amount of explosives or weapons destroyed is 240,000 TONS, and I'd be willing to bet that's a drop in the bucket. To get one's panties in a wad about 400 tons of explosives is very poor form. The NYTimes has also made a big deal of the fact that the demo in question is HMX or RDX, saying that this can be used to drop buildings, or put in missiles. I'm here to tell you that while this is true, the insurgents in Iraq have been quite effective in creating Improvised Explosive Devices from all manner of things. That's why they are called "improvised." Mortar rounds, artillery rounds, mines, these things are to be found in great abundance in Iraq -- just like ridiculous reality TV is so easily found in the US. I stand by my initial assertion that these explosives are no more of a threat to us than any others that can be easily gotten from anywhere else, and I stand by my statement that if these explosives found their way into the hands of the likes of Zarqawi, we have watched them go off in car bombs for months now. To say that more troops could have safeguarded this explosives cache is a silly argument. The incredible number of such sties in Iraq makes this similar to saying that the best way to guard the US would be to post a company of troops at every 7-11. One of the first rules of defense is: You can't be strong everywhere. You have to choose. Here are some pictures of some EOD techs in Iraq doing what they do best. (Those missiles look like Al-Samouds! We helped some EOD guys blow one of those and it took the best ones, one of whom had a Masters in Chemistry, the better part of 2 days to figure out how to do it right). On to other things . . .