Terrorists have unveiled a new weapon in Iraq, this time killing people by blowing up canisters containing chlorine gas which is released in crowded neighborhoods.
Attacks have come recently using containers of varying numbers and sizes.
Victims not killed by the initial explosion or the shrapnel from the containers die from exposure to the gas. Many more who don't die suffer from damage to their lungs or burned skin from the caustic gas.
News organizations are portraying this tactic as another means of spreading fear, the primary weapon of terrorists.
But is that the only purpose?
Terror has already been spread throughout Baghdad by daily kidnappings, murders, and car and homicide bombings set off by suicidal freaks who obviously aren't as concerned with making the world a better place as securing their place in paradise. Consider also that compared to various forms of plastiques and other high explosives, it is harder to transport and hide bulky containers of chlorine, which while deadly, dissipates much more quickly and with less damage than far more lethal forms of nerve gas.
The level of danger drops with distance from the gas, although release of large quantities of chlorine plays hell with the ozone layer.
Still, far more people die from the typical car bombing than from the chlorine gas bombs exploded so far. So what purpose would be served by switching to a new tactic that requires far more preparation, is harder to pull off, and has less lethality?
How about practice?
Practice for what you ask?
Practice to see how deadly chlorine is, over a specified area with a specified number of people living and working in that area. Practice for releasing clouds of chlorine gas in downtown Manhattan perhaps?
Far-fetched? Well, let's hearken back to January 8, this year, when a mysterious and noxious odor permeated most of mid-town Manhattan, and drifted across the Hudson River to Jersey City and further.
For the first couple of hours news organizations and municipal officials from both sides of the river speculated that a natural gas leak was causing the odor and wondered aloud whether terrorists were behind the supposed leak.
But then utility officials from throughout the region began reporting that they had no reports of leaks anywhere in their systems. Those reports were followed by explanations that the odor wasn't caused by natural gas, but instead by mercaptan, which is added to natural gas to spew a 'rotten egg' odor as an alert in case there is a real leak.
That speculation was then followed by considerable discussion on how mercaptan was leaked in Manhattan and the size of the area affected by it. The answer was, no one knew how it was released, but it affected a huge area.
Anyone interested in studying the patterns of a gas release in New York City under the weather conditions that prevailed that day, only had to watch TV and read the papers. The news gave building by building, sometimes floor by floor, reports on where the gas concentrated and how many people were affected by it.
The odor was reported throughout Manhattan from Midtown to Battery Park City, and as far away as Newark, New Jersey, about 10 miles to the west. Buildings were evacuated, and the PATH commuter trains along the Sixth Avenue line were temporarily suspended, although in this case the smell didn't have an effect on subway service.
But utility company officials said a comprehensive search found no gas leaks, and there was no drop in gas pressure in the city.
So where did it come front and how did it get released? And most important, why?
Well, I'm not a big fan of conspiracy theories, but then again we are engaged in a global war with terrorists who are determined to crush our way of life, our country, our religions, our traditions, our government, and women of all ages. And Manhattan would be an ideal candidate for attack, as was shown on September 11, 2001. If you are successful in one attack, why would you not launch another?
I have seen no evidence yet that there is a direct link between the gas smell in Manhattan and the chlorine bombs in Baghdad. But that doesn't mean there isn't one, and that certainly doesn't mean we shouldn't prepare ourselves.
Two things to remember in a gas attack - first, don't run with the wind at your back. It is faster than you are, flows around obstacles and will catch up with you. Second, try to determine the location of ground zero for the gas, then run perpendicular to the direction of flow until outside the area it covers, then run into the wind.
The wind will blow the gas away from you, not at you. I'm not saying this is foolproof because every day and every person is different. But basically this will give you an edge, and in combat you need every edge you can get.
Remember, we are in combat. Most of the time it doesn't seem like it because the media only covers car bombings in Baghdad, while Congress is so focused on self-centered personal politics that the real business of the country is usually obscured.
But we are in a war with terrorists, and urban combat is what these terrorists are all about. Personally I hope we never have another attack on our soil. But there has to be a reason for terrorists to resort to a less effective tactic in Baghdad, and I don't think it is because they have run out of ammo.
Friday, February 23, 2007