How big a blunder? How about 950 bombs, 19,000 dead and 95,000 wounded

The White House is playing down the fact it lost 380 tons of high explosives. Apparently, it’s no big deal to the Bushies that they’ve let an ammunition dump that had been identified by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) prior to the war to be looted to the floorboards.

Reports have downplayed the seriousness of the situation, focusing on the fact that the explosives aren’t as dangerous as nuclear weapons. White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said at a press gaggle today:

[T]he first priority, from our standpoint, was to make sure that this wasn’t a nuclear proliferation risk, which it is not. These are conventional high explosives that we are talking about. And the President wants to make sure that we get to the bottom of this. Now, the Pentagon, upon learning of this, directed the multinational forces and the Iraqi survey group to look into this matter, and that’s what they are currently doing.

Now, if you go back and look at the Duelfer report that recently has come out, according to the Duelfer report, as of mid-September, more than 243,000 tons of munitions have been destroyed since Operation Iraqi Freedom. Coalition forces have cleared and reviewed a total of 10,033 caches of munitions; another nearly 163,000 tons of munitions have been secured and are on line to be destroyed. That puts this all — that puts this all in context.

So, the excuse is that because it has captured and destroyed 406,000 tons of munitions since the invasion began, the loss of 380 tons isn’t a serious issue. But this doesn’t represent an apples-to-apples comparison, as much of the 406,000 tons of confiscated munitions is guns and ammunition and not high explosives. However, the real point is that 380 tons of high explosives is out there in someone’s hands.

Tthe real issue is that the explosives can be used against civilians and soldiers in Iraq and around the world. Consider that only five grams of RDX, for example, is enough to kill a person when used in an anti-personnel land mine. When 1,000 pounds of explosives were set off by a suicide bomber in Baghdad last January, 24 people were killed. The Irish Republican Army used about 900 pounds of explosives to set off 22 bombs that killed nine and injured 130 people seriously on “Bloody Friday” in 1972.

Taken with that background, the 380 tons of lost high explosives is enough to commit hundreds or thousands or atrocities. If we estimate that 800 pounds of explosives can kill 20 people and injure 100, the lost munitions are sufficient to build 950 bombs that would kill 19,000 people and injure 95,000 people.

That is a screw-up of massive proportion. What possible excuse is there for this material being unprotected, for not dropping a huge special forces team in during the invasion to lock this down, since the IAEA told the Administration it was there about before the war?

Author: Mitch Ratcliffe

Mitch Ratcliffe is a veteran entrepreneur, journalist and business model hacker. He operates this site, which is a collection of the blogs he's published over the years, as well as an archive of his professional publishing record. As always, this is a work in progress. Such is life.

13 thoughts on “How big a blunder? How about 950 bombs, 19,000 dead and 95,000 wounded”

  1. Another oops – potentially very LOUD.

    The President to argues that he’s the only guy qualified to fight the War in Iraq has just seen another blunder on his watch, this one pretty horrifying… 380 tons of explosives disappeared from an ammunition dump. Mitch Ratcliffe did…

  2. Some explosives links

    But the real issue is that the explosives can be used against civilians and soldiers in Iraq and around the world. Consider that only five grams of RDX, for example, is enough to kill a person when used in…

  3. How big a blunder?

    Mitch Ratcliffe: How big a blunder? How about 950 bombs, 19,000 dead and 95,000 wounded. The White House is playing down the fact it lost 380 tons of high explosives. Apparently, it’s no big deal to the Bushies that they’ve…

  4. “What possible excuse is there for this material being unprotected?”

    Umm…how about it wasn’t there when US force arrived?

    http://edition.cnn.com/2004/WORLD/meast/10/26/iraq.explosives.intl/

    “”NBC said that on April 10, 2003 — a day after Baghdad fell — one of its news crews was embedded with the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division when the troops arrived at the Al Qaqaa storage facility south of Baghdad. While the troops found large stockpiles of conventional explosives, they did not find HMX or RDX, the types of powerful explosives that were said to have disappeared, NBC said.”

  5. Josh Marshall has gone into great depth about the “it wasn’t there argument” here: http://www.talkingpointsmemo.com/archives/week_2004_10_24.php#003800

    The key points being:

    The Pentagon has both said the explosives were there and not there. Reports from April 4, 2003, indicate that U.S. troops “thousands of five-centimetre by 12-centimetre boxes, each containing three vials of white powder” which were initially believed to be chemical agents but were later determined to be “explosives,” which confirms the explosives were there.

    The Iraqi interim government says the explosives disappeared after April 9, 2003, almost a week after the facility was under U.S. control.

    The International Atomic Energy Commission, which had been monitoring the facility since 1991, inspected the site in January and found that seals placed on on it were confirmed to be in place the week before the invasion

  6. You’re off by three orders of magnitude. You should have written “…destroyed 406,000 tons of explosives since the invasion began, the loss of 380 tons isn’t a serious issue. A 99.9 percent success rate is pretty good work, if you ask me,…”
    -russ

  7. hey, i’m on your side and all, but i don’t get the math. how on earth do you arrive at 406 tons? don’t you mean 406,000 tons (243,000 plus 163,000)?

    actually, the 99% figure quoted above is correct, unless i’m missing something.

    again, don’t yell at me, i’m on your side dude. in fact, i think a bigger effort needs to be made to give this a larger appearance of blunder. if the media were to add ‘gate’ (such as al-qaqaa-gate) to the phraseology, it would stink more of scandal in this last week and get more easily passed around the media.

  8. Mitch, what the hell are you thinking? You had it wrong, then you made it worse. Coalition forces have destroyed 406,000 tons of explosives. The “missing” explosives amount to 0.1% of that total, 380 tons. You weren’t supposed to add three zeroes to the 380 tons, you were supposed to add three zeroes to the 406 tons. Then you were supposed to say “DOH! Sorry folks, nothing here of consequence, it’s a vanishingly small percentage of the total already found. My bad.”

    If you want a reality-based explanation of this, see Ralph Peter’s column at http://www.nypost.com/postopinion/opedcolumnists/32832.htm

  9. Well, in all fairness, Russell, he did admit to the error, much as JFK did in the Bay of Pigs, and much as W did in, er, uh…

    In any case, 380 or 380,000, i’m afraid the al-Qaqaa has hit the fan, so to speak. Bush is in knee deep in this al-Qaqaa mess, and the polls are just now starting show it.

    Though with all the new revelations about how much destruction a single pound of this stuff can do, I’m surprised W hasn’t come out and said, ‘See? Saddam did have weapons of mass destruction! Too bad we lost em…’

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