By now we are all aware of the horrible accident suffered by the cadre members and students at the JFK SWC (Special Warfare Center) on Thursday where the U.S. Army Green Berets are trained at Ft. Bragg, NC.

While the details are still sketchy, the class of prospective Special Forces Engineers (18C) were attending a class on the range for Homemade Explosive Devices when this awful tragedy occurred. We also know through SOFREP’s sources inside the ATF that one of their Special Agents was also there, a former Special Forces Engineer and he was injured also by shrapnel but is going to be alright.

This was the worst accident suffered by the school house’s Engineer Committee since an accident in 1970 that killed a number of prospective Green Berets.

This, along with the tragedy of the 15 Marines who were burned inside an Amphibious Vehicle earlier this week shows what a dangerous business it is defending the United States. Our troops have a difficult and dangerous job, even when they’re in the “safe” confines of the U.S.

Invariably, because of this accident, even before the details are known, there will be a cry for this Homemade Explosives training to be cut from the curriculum of the SF students. Some out of touch or unknowing bean counter will deem the training as “too dangerous” and push the issue down thru the chain of command. This training has always been taught to the SF “demo men” but a few years ago, it was stopped for some reason. We learned yesterday, that the training has been brought back on board. It is needed, is very important and must remain on the books.

Homemade explosives and improvised device training are imperative not only for our Special Operators but for local, state and federal law enforcement as well as our EOD technicians who support all of the above-mentioned organizations. These people are our front line in the war against the terrorists. But before we go any further, what exactly are homemade explosives?

Extremist and Terrorist groups all around the world are always on the lookout for easier and cheaper ways to make bombs and explosives. With the majority of governments cracking down on the export and sale of military and industrial grade explosives, except for a few rogue nations that sponsor terrorism, it has become harder for terrorists to find the explosives they want…so they’ve done their homework and constructing them out of ordinary household items. The internet is chock full of recipes on how to construct improvised explosives.

The Boston Marathon bombing wasn’t done with any kind of high-grade explosives, just a pressure cooker bomb whose instructions on how to build one were easily found online.

Pressure cooker bomb of the Boston Marathon.

Homemade explosives (HME) typically are made by combining an oxidizer with a fuel.

Some are more unstable than others and many a would-be bomb maker has met his fate while working with some of the more dangerous chemicals. Commonly used HMEs include:

Peroxide-based explosives such as triacetonetriperoxide (TATP), hexamethylene triperoxide diamine (HMTD) and methyl ethyl ketone peroxide (MEKP) are easily constructed and extremists with little to no chemistry background can attempt to produce these. TATP has been used by terrorists in the Middle East to produce devices for suicide bombers’ belts and was used in terrorist attacks in many other places, including the mass-transit bombings in London. TATP has been produced in the United States by terrorists, as well as criminals.

Ammonium nitrate (AN) and fuel oil are widely accessible and relatively inexpensive, and neither is classified as an explosive. AN is sold at farming supply stores and its widespread availability makes it a likely target for theft or purchase by criminals and terrorists. The same is true of the AN precursors ammonium hydroxide and nitric acid.

Fuel oil number 2, or diesel fuel, is the most popular fuel oil used in the synthesis of ANFO. Diesel and other fuels are found anywhere because of the abundance of gas stations, boating docks etc.  Other common fuels such as nitro-methane and aluminum powder can be used. ANFO was used during the 1995 terrorist attack on the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, OK. Special Forces troops trained DEA agents back in the 1980s-90s to use a combination ammonium nitrate and fuel mix explosive to crater clandestine drug airstrips in the Andean Ridge countries due to their stability until mixed on the ground and primed with a booster charge.

TATP and HMTD require a production lab to create. The materials needed to produce these are easily found in hardware or drug stores. Since peroxide-based explosives are sensitive to heat, shock and/or friction. Indicators of a possible explosives lab may include:

• Refrigerator or coolers

• Glassware and laboratory equipment

• Blenders

• Blasting caps/batteries/fuses/switches

• Pipes/end caps/storage containers

• Shrapnel-type materials

• Strong acidic odors

• Hot plates

Some common tip-offs that a bomb-making operation is in place would be to find these chemicals along with pipes, activation devices, propane containers etc.. Also, electronic components such as wires, circuit boards, cell phones and batteries can point toward the possible design and production of IEDs.

All of this information is needed for our Special Operators, EOD techs, and Law Enforcement personnel because they need to know how to recognize a homemade explosive device or laboratory, know what the capabilities of such a device are and how to properly look to disable these as well as look for booby traps.

Extremists and terrorists are always constantly changing their methods, and our Special Operations Forces, EOD techs, and Law Enforcement personnel need to keep abreast of the latest updates.

So, while all of us feel for the soldiers and family members who were affected by this tragic accident, it shouldn’t take away from the fact that this training is very important and very necessary for our troops and first responders who constantly go in harm’s way.

Photos Courtesy: Wikipedia