“Enhanced blast” thermobaric weapons used in Afghanistan

The United Kingdom’s Defense Ministry admitted this week that their pilots in Afghanistan are firing an increasing number of “enhanced blast” thermobaric weapons, designed to kill everyone in buildings they strike. Since the start of the year, more than 20 of the US-designed missiles, which have what is officially described as a “blast fragmentation warhead,” have been fired by pilots of British Apache helicopters. A total of 20 were also fired last year.

The weapons are a variant of the AGM-114N Hellfire missile, described by the Pentagon as “designed to produce higher sustained blast pressure in multi-room structures… The enhanced blast from the warhead is more effective against non-traditional targets; multi-room structures expected in military operations in urban terrain operations, caves, and fortified bunkers.”

The missile’s warhead is made with a mixture of chemicals rather than a simple blast mechanism. Unlike conventional warheads, it produces a sustained pressure wave. US forces have deployed the missiles in Iraq as well as Afghanistan.

Its wider use was disclosed by John Hutton, the defense secretary, in answer to a parliamentary query from Nick Harvey of the Liberal Democrats. “Given the MoD’s reluctance to admit they were even going to use these weapons, they now seem to be getting rather more trigger-happy,” Harvey said May 28. “If these controversial weapons are being fired on a weekly basis in Afghanistan, we need to know that they are being used according to strict rules of engagement.” (Pakistan Daily Mail, May 29)

This is likely the source of early conspiranoid claims that the US was using nuclear weapons in Afghanistan.

See our last post on civilian casualties in Afghanistan.