Shades of Iraq:
No, this is not President George Bush talking about Iraq or the more general and never-ending “war on terror” to which he has committed the United States.
This is Lieutenant Colonel Garry Bush, who is in overall command of military and civilian personnel in what is called the Coalition Munitions Clearance Program. (“Team Blows Up Fodder For Bombs,” Boston Globe, June 17, 2007 http://www.boston.com/news/world/middleeast/articles/2007/06/17/team_blows_up_fodder_for_bombs/)When U.S. and coalition ground forces invaded Iraq in March 2003 and toppled Saddam’s regime, they unexpectedly found that they literally were sitting on a massive conventional arms dump – everything from pistol and rifle ammunition to artillery and mortar shells, mines, tank rounds, plastic explosives, rockets and bombs. Initial estimates ranged as high as 2 million tons of explosive materials, most of it unguarded and a not insignificant amount buried.
Simply mapping the locations of the ammunition dumps was a major task, one that – as with the nuclear sites – was not done as the coalition forces moved across Iraq because there were insufficient supporting or follow-on troops to guard the dumps and perform other assigned tasks. And even though the total munitions discovered seems to be closer to 600,000 tons, the failure to secure the explosives, shells, and cartridges provided an opportunity for Saddam loyalists, criminal enterprises, and others to secrete thousands of munitions that have since been “recycled” into vehicular suicide bombs and improvised explosive devices.
The work falls to EOD or Explosive Ordnance Demolition units and civilian contractors who use controlled explosions to explode the excess and often outdated ammunition. (Yes, like some foods, ammunition has a “Use By” date beyond which its reliability cannot be guaranteed.) LTC Bush estimates that his command has destroyed about 366,000 tons of Saddam-era munitions and still has another 150,000 tons to go – assuming that no other large storage complexes beyond the 66 discovered so far are found. So far, the unit has suffered five deaths associated with munitions handling. Monetary costs are above one billion dollars and continue to rise.
While the members of the Coalition Munitions Clearance Program destroy the big dumps, coalition and Iraqi security forces report they are finding twice the number of small caches of weapons since before the “surge” into Baghdad and al-Anbar province.
Meanwhile, the U.S and the UK, in a sudden Eureka moment of awareness and fiscal accountability, have introduced in the UN Security Council a new draft resolution that would formally end UNMOVIC, the UN Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission whose members were charged with uncovering and destroying Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction, work the commission did until right before the U.S.-led invasion.
When the regime fell in early April, Washington, which had delighted in vilifying UNMOVIC for its failure to find either stockpiles of weapons or advanced research programs, refused to let the UN agency back into Iraq to complete its investigation for chemical, biological and nuclear weapons work.
Instead, the Bush administration created its own inspection agency – the Iraq Survey Group or ISG – with a maximum authorized end strength of 1,400 personnel from the U.S., UK, and Australia. In the end, the ISG’s final report, presented October 6, 2004, did nothing more than validate the work of the 100 UNMOVIC inspectors: Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction, no means to produce them, and no active research program to acquire them.
Undoubtedly, considering the lives lost, the lives forever ruined, the other costs of this war, has there ever before been so high a price paid by so many from such a large number of countries for such a huge miscalculation that turned up zero promised results?