Libya – Chemical Warfare against the innocents?
by Dale R. Suiter
Broadcast media has noted that Lt. Col. Kaddafi has threatened to use chemical warfare agents against protestors in his unhappy country. Much was made of Libya’s announcement in the early part of the 21st century regarding Libya destroying its stockpile of WMD’s. Well… O.K., maybe, kinda, sorta? Does the Colonel have stocks of weapons grade chemical agents and the delivery systems to employ them?
The media has repeatedly broadcasts volumes of data, information, opinions, talk, reviews and discussions regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction. In the NBC (nuclear, Biological, Chemical) world of warfare – folks in the know – realize there is a bit more to employing chemical weapons that going to a locker, taking out some good ole mustard gas and slaying a bunch of folks. BUT, the Colonel can create local scenes of mayhem and slaughter. Take a look at the LTC’s inventory (that I can reasonably confirm). The chemical agents is what media reports claim the good LTC is prepared to unleash on the folks of Libya. Of course – NATO and other military forces must be prepared to fight in a “dirty battlefield” environment. (Make the conduct of operations a bit more complex and requires a lot more effort.)
1. Mustard gas – 9.5 metric tons
Yellow mustard gas – 1,000 metric tons
(See Current Events Laura Brewer 2/25/11)
2. VX (nerve) – quantity unknown
Sarin – “ “
Tabun (GA) – “ “
3. Yellow cake uranium – unprocessed tons (?) may have weapons value / use
In a radiological “dirty bomb” type weapons
Mustards are disseminated as a liquid. Not commercially available and are found in military stockpiles. Volatility-Most are relatively persistent (means the agent stays around for a length of time – depending on temperature, wind and other factors) and pose contact and inhalation threats (by being slow to evaporate). Vapor density-heavier than air (settles in low spots and effects decontamination procedures). Odor-onions, garlic or horseradish. Routes of entry-inhalation, ingestion, or absorption.
General signs and/or symptoms-Mustard agent exposure (no effects for hours), severe itching and blisters, tearing/inflammatory reactions begin to appear up to several hours after exposure causing pain, extreme light sensitivity, spasmodic winking, bloody diarrhea, loss of voice, and difficult breathing; gastrointestinal effects result in the destruction of mucus membranes; shock is possible. Onset of symptoms may not appear for hours with mustard agents.
Follow up care
Medical assistance must be provided in chemical agent protective posture (really hard to do and must be done only by qualified personnel in specially prepared treatment areas).
Blister agents freeze in the 50-degree (f) range and thaw out when the temperature goes above the freezing point. Get some on clothing – take inside and it thaws out and attacks people. When inhaled Blister agents form blisters on the inside of the lungs. Blisters fill with fluid and burst and contaminated individuals drown in their own fluids. Decontamination is complex, expensive and must be completed by qualified personnel. Extensive equipment, personnel and area resources are mandatory for decontamination. (Note: Runoff water used in decontamination must be collected for disposal too. It is that complex of a procedure.)
Dissemination-liquid or gas. Not commercially available – countries may (?) have military stockpiles. Tabun, sarin is nonpersistent – it poses immediate short-duration hazards (e.g. hours). VX-persistent, poses a contact or inhalation threat by being slow to evaporate. Vapor density-is heavier than air – means it settles in low spots and is a decontamination concern. Odor: tabun is slightly fruity. Sarin is faintly sweet and VX is odorless. Routes of entry-inhalation or absorption.
General signs and/or symptoms-Pinpointed pupils, respiratory arrest, sweating, weakness, disorientation, diarrhea, slurred speech, nausea/vomiting/drooling, trembling, paralysis, depression (? – I always wonder about the depression – death in 5-10 minutes – not a lot of time to be depressed), vomiting, headache, reduced vision, convulsion, general increase in secretions, tremors. Onset of symptoms occurs immediately.
As with blister agents follow up medical treatment must occur in an isolated zone performed by specially trained personnel. Decontamination is expensive, equipment and resource heavy and takes a lot of time, effort and area. Disposal of decontamination wastewater and decontamination by-products is an important issue too.
Many people confuse nuclear weapons with (radiological). Dirty bombs use conventional explosives used to disseminate radiological material. The material used in dirty bombs contains varying amounts of radium. Properties of radium include:
Radium has a half-life of 1,600 years. It is about one million times more active than uranium. The lab notebooks used by the Curies (folks that pioneered much of early research of radioactive materials over 100 years ago) are to highly contaminated by be safely handled today. (Jefferson Lab: It’s elemental – The Element Radium)
Yellowcake is much misunderstood in the media and among political entities. It is available worldwide for about $10.00 and some change a pound. Canada manufactures the best quality Yellowcake at about 20%. Yellowcake at 1% is available too. This means that manufactured Yellowcake is available between 1% – 20%. It is nothing other than milled uranium oxide. (What is Yellowcake anyway? Brendan I. Koerner, Slate Magazine, 7/1/03)
I doubt that dirty bombs are a real threat from LTC. Kaddafi. Chemical weapons are an important concern. He probably has them and may have delivery methods to disseminate them. Chemical agents can be put into mortar or artillery shells or aircraft bombs. They can also be dispensed as a spray from aircraft. Handheld devices may be used too. How effective are chemical agents? Depends on the skill of the people employing the agents against others. Really that simple. How dangerous are chemical weapons? The mustard agents are very dangerous. The nerve agents are extremely lethal. A few drops of non-persistent never agent – delivered by competent weapons experts can kill 1,000+ people and make many more quite ill.
There are calls for The United States to intervene in Libya. Civilians will make the decision to deploy or not to deploy United States Armed Forces to Libya. Military planners will consider all aspects of threats our Forces must cope with should we invade. LTC Kaddafi has reportedly stated he will use chemical weapons against his how people. If true – military operations against him and his military must be swift, overwhelming and conducted to the destruction of any possible survival of LTC. Kaddafi’s ability to employ military force. Concern to exists in my thinking about the availability of American Forces to invade Libya and the logistic support available to sustain them. If we the people invade Libya, America will be at war on three fronts.
Remember folks, we the people still register 18-year-old men for the draft, do we not? Our Military is extended. We may very well need more young men to send into battle. Civilian leaders, if they decide on an addtional course for war need to include plans for expanding resources too.
Dale R. Suiter
February 27, 2011
Dale R. Suiter served in the United States Marine Corps June 1966 – February – 1970. He served with Ammo Company First FSR, 2nd CAG Q-6 and Q-3, H&S 81’s 3/9 and 1/3. His service “On the Rock” was with Ordanance Schools, Camp Hansen. Following the Marine Corp, he completed a career in public service – prison and jail operations. In addition, he completed a career as a reserve officer with the Michigan Army National Guard. His two sons and two sons-in-law are veterans of the war on terror. The family continues in service to the United States of America.