Several years ago an official with the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security disclosed to this author that al-Qaeda scientists had achieved a stunning breakthrough in non-nuclear explosives. At that time al-Qaeda experts were reportedly on the verge of developing a new class of “super explosives.” A more accurate description would be to refer to them as “sustained detonation” or “uncurved brisance” explosives. On October 29, 2011, those explosives may have made their debut when one of NATO’s supposedly “bomb-proof” Rhino armored buses was hit by a suicide car bomb which threw the massive Rhino into the air and flipped it over along a Kabul highway killing all 13 military and civilian occupants.
The story begins at the Bureau of Diplomatic Security’s training facility at Summit Point, West Virginia. This author, who was serving in the State Department at the time, was selected for an anti-terrorist training program run by security officials Brian Duffy and Martin Burk. On March 26, 2008, this author was given an unclassified briefing by one of the Bureau’s senior ordinance experts. That official disclosed the al-Qaeda breakthrough. He described State Department officials as being fearful of the consequences of this new class of explosives. He went on to reveal that government experts were stunned because they did not know that sustained detonation or uncurved brisance explosives were even possible. True to form the Bureau and the State Department have concealed this information from the American public and more importantly from U.S. troops who would have to face these explosives. It is not clear if the information was ever disclosed to Congress. The resulting lack of public discussion means that the U.S. military is unprepared to deal with these new weapons; weapons which expose American personnel to new and heightened risks.
Chemical explosives, i.e., those which detonate rather than simply burn, obtain most of their destructive power due to a supersonic shock wave formed by the detonation impulse. The higher the velocity of the impulse the greater its shattering power. That is generally referred to as the “brisance” of the explosive. The name originated from the French verb “briser” meaning to break or shatter. The velocity can be depicted as a curve in which the impulse climbs, peaks and then falls. According to Diplomatic Security officials, the al-Qaeda’s explosives rise and peak but do not immediately fall. Instead the peak can be maintained for a very short period. As a result there is no curve as with conventional explosives. This would magnify their destructive power considerably.
There is reportedly substantial research on-going in this area. The Pentagon had been the leader in new explosives due to its pioneering work in thermobaric explosives, which use fuel/air mixtures combined with powdered aluminum to achieve a longer duration blast. Other theoretical super explosive research has focused on using metallic hydrogen and cryogenics, including liquid oxygen (LOX). There was a report that the terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah used crude thermobaric explosives in its 2002, Bali bombings. This new threat prompted writer David Eshel in 2006, to coin the term “thermobaric terrorism.”
In the aftermath of the October 29, 2011, Kabul attack, U.S. and NATO officials released a misleading analysis of the attack. They stated that 700 kilograms of explosives were used. That comment was misleading because they could not possibly know the amount of explosives. The blast effects of 700 kilograms of ammonium nitrate, TNT and RDX explosives are considerably different. All that these officials could possibly say about the Kabul explosives is that the blast effects are consistent with that produced by 700 kilograms of a conventional explosive. The fact is that the same explosive effect could have been produced by perhaps 200 kilograms of a super explosive. If so, the Kabul attack may signal the ominous beginning of a new terrorist campaign wherein small quantities of super explosives might be used to bring down commercial airliners, destroy public buildings and attack infrastructure targets in the West.
Support for the premise that a super explosive may have been used in the Kabul attack can be seen in the following facts:
1. 700 kilograms is a massive weight for an average civilian passenger vehicle to covertly transport, which makes the U.S./NATO claims suspect;
2. This was clearly intended to be a demonstration of something new as the terrorists chose the most bomb-proof vehicle in the U.S./NATO inventory as their target;
3. We know from the State Department that terrorist groups have had these super explosives for at least several years; and finally,
4. U.S. officials cannot be relied on to publicly acknowledge the existence of these new al-Qaeda weapons or their use. They would likely view the truth as destabilizing because the increased risks to American forces might undermine the already dwindling support in the U.S. for the Afghan war. Deception fueled the Vietnam War (with the fabricated Tonkin Gulf incidents), the Iraq War (with Saddam Hussein’s fabricated weapons of mass destruction) and it may now be fueling the Afghan War.
If these explosives exist and if their use is being concealed by the Pentagon and NATO, then billions of dollars in U.S. taxpayer funds spent on MRAPs (mine resistant vehicles) may have been wasted. With each new terrorist weapon, a counter needs to be devised and fielded as quickly as possible. The concern is that excessive secrecy may have delayed research into new equipment, armor and vehicles to counter this emerging threat. The consequences may be that more Americans troops will die needlessly, just as they did as a result of previous delays in fielding upgraded body armor, armored HUMVEES and the original MRAPs; and no Administration officials, Generals or Admirals will ever be held accountable.
The American way of war perhaps can be summed up in two rules:
“Rule 1: the truth gets concealed, inept officials prosper and soldiers die, and
Rule 2: no one seems to be able to change Rule 1."
Image source and copyright