Wednesday, October 27, 2004

more about those missing explosives

Stephen writes in:
About the missing explosives. First this is old news repackaged for the election; once again we see CBS and IAEA with an agenda trying to pass this off. Second imbedded reporters with the 101st Airborne Division claimed the explosives were missing when they captured the base during OIF. This site has a nice clip of Kerry putting his foot in his mouth.
It’s nice to see what the standard of evidence is and I can’t wait to use it in my career.
Despite the smug and supercilious tone -- which, since this is my blog, I thought I had a corner on -- I would like to respond with some further evidence as the story takes shape.

First, Stephen, is this old news or not news? You can't have it both ways.

Second, the government relying on NBC news for proof -- aren't they part of the liberal media conspiracy? -- doesn't comfort me. Shouldn't the government have its own source of information on this, since the IAEA had specifically warned them about this site? Since they knew about it before the war, shouldn't this have been a major priority from day one? Did they ignore the IAEA or did they have -- like Dick Cheney did during the Vietnam War -- "other priorities"? Like securing the oil ministry, perhaps?

Third, NBC news has disavowed the spin the Bush administration is putting on their report:
An NBC News crew that accompanied the U.S. soldiers who seized the base three weeks into the war said troops saw no sign of the missing HMX and RDX.

Reporter Lai Ling Jew, who was embedded with the Army’s 101st Airborne, 2nd Brigade, said Tuesday on MSNBC TV that the news team stayed at the base for about 24 hours.

“There wasn’t a search,” she said. “The mission that the brigade had was to get to Baghdad. That was more of a pit stop there for us. And, you know, the searching, I mean, certainly some of the soldiers headed off on their own, looked through the bunkers just to look at the vast amount of ordnance lying around.

“But as far as we could tell, there was no move to secure the weapons, nothing to keep looters away.”

Lt. Col. Fred Wellman, the unit’s spokesman, appeared to confirm NBC’s report in an e-mail message Tuesday to The Associated Press, saying the brigade did not have orders to search for the explosives that Iraqi officials say were stolen.

The soldiers “secured the area they were in and looked in a limited amount of bunkers to ensure chemical weapons were not present in their area,” Wellman wrote. “Bombs were found but not chemical weapons in that immediate area.

“Orders were not given from higher to search or to secure the facility or to search for HE type munitions [high-explosive weapons], as they were everywhere in Iraq,” he wrote.
This is how the Times reports the story today:
Republican officials have sought to discredit the initial reports and seized on an NBC News account, broadcast Monday night, that said when troops from the 101st Airborne arrived at the vast site on April 10, 2003, they found conventional weapons but none of the extremely powerful high explosives, HMX and RDX, which can be used to set off a nuclear weapon. In an e-mail message sent to reporters on Monday evening, Scott Stanzel, a spokesman for the Bush campaign, said, "The weapons were not there when the military arrived, making John Kerry's latest ripped-from-the-headlines attack baseless and false."

But Tuesday evening, NBC again reported on the issue. This time it reported that it had not said that the explosives were gone before American troops arrived at Al Qaqaa. Instead, it reported that troops from the Third Infantry Division and the 101st Airborne searched bunkers at the site and had not found the powerful explosives. NBC reported that it was not clear whether American troops searched all of the bunkers.

"Last night on this broadcast we reported that the 101st Airborne never found the nearly 380 tons of HMX and RDX explosives,'' Tom Brokaw, the NBC anchor, said. "We did not conclude the explosives were missing or had vanished, nor did we say they missed the explosives. We simply reported that the 101st did not find them.''

"For its part, the Bush campaign immediately pointed to our report as conclusive proof that the weapons had been removed before the Americans arrived,'' Mr. Brokaw added. "That is possible, but that is not what we reported.''

For the second day Mr. Bush did not speak about the issue, twice ignoring questions from reporters.
Digby has some thoughts on the issue, and quotes this exchange from NBC News:
Amy Robach: And it's still unclear exactly when those explosives disappeared. Here to help shed some light on that question is Lai Ling. She was part of an NBC news crew that traveled to that facility with the 101st Airborne Division back in April of 2003. Lai Ling, can you set the stage for us? What was the situation like when you went into the area?

Lai Ling Jew: When we went into the area, we were actually leaving Karbala and we were initially heading to Baghdad with the 101st Airborne, Second Brigade. The situation in Baghdad, the Third Infantry Division had taken over Baghdad and so they were trying to carve up the area that the 101st Airborne Division would be in charge of. As a result, they had trouble figuring out who was going to take up what piece of Baghdad. They sent us over to this area in Iskanderia. We didn't know it as the Qaqaa facility at that point but when they did bring us over there we stayed there for quite a while. We stayed overnight, almost 24 hours. And we walked around, we saw the bunkers that had been bombed, and that exposed all of the ordinances that just lied dormant on the desert.

AR: Was there a search at all underway or did a search ensue for explosives once you got there during that 24-hour period?

LLJ: No. There wasn't a search. The mission that the brigade had was to get to Baghdad. That was more of a pit stop there for us. And, you know, the searching, I mean certainly some of the soldiers head off on their own, looked through the bunkers just to look at the vast amount of ordnance lying around. But as far as we could tell, there was no move to secure the weapons, nothing to keep looters away. But there was -- at that point the roads were shut off. So it would have been very difficult, I believe, for the looters to get there.

AR: And there was no talk of securing the area after you left. There was no discussion of that?

LLJ: Not for the 101st Airborne, Second Brigade. They were -- once they were in Baghdad, it was all about Baghdad, you know, and then they ended up moving north to Mosul. Once we left the area, that was the last that the brigade had anything to do with the area.

AR: Well, Lai Ling Jew, thank you so much for shedding some light into that situation. We appreciate it.

LLJ: Thank you.
Josh Marshall, citing a Jerusalem Post article, includes this quote contradicting the current administration spin:
At the Pentagon, an official who monitors developments in Iraq said US-led coalition troops had searched Al-Qaqaa in the immediate aftermath of the March 2003 invasion and confirmed that the explosives, which had been under IAEA seal since 1991, were intact. Thereafter the site was not secured by U.S. forces, the official said, also speaking on condition of anonymity.
Further, the Times has another article today No Check of Bunker, Unit Commander Says:
The commander, Col. Joseph Anderson, of the Second Brigade of the Army's 101st Airborne Division, said he did not learn until this week that the site, Al Qaqaa, was considered sensitive, or that international inspectors had visited it before the war began in 2003 to inspect explosives that they had tagged during a decade of monitoring.

Colonel Anderson, who is now the chief of staff for the division and who spoke by telephone from Fort Campbell, Ky., said his troops had been driving north toward Baghdad and had paused at Al Qaqaa to make plans for their next push.

"We happened to stumble on it,'' he said. "I didn't know what the place was supposed to be. We did not get involved in any of the bunkers. It was not our mission. It was not our focus. We were just stopping there on our way to Baghdad. The plan was to leave that very same day. The plan was not to go in there and start searching. It looked like all the other ammunition supply points we had seen already."
Finally, as the Times reports in an article on their website posted today:
President Bush addressed for the first time today the mysterious disappearance of 380 tons of explosives in Iraq, accusing his campaign rival, Senator John Kerry, of exploiting the issue without knowing, or caring about, the truth.

"Our military is now investigating a number of possible scenarios, including that the explosives may have been moved before our troops even arrived at the site," Mr. Bush told a Republican crowd in Lancaster, Pa. "This investigation is important and it's ongoing, and a political candidate who jumps to conclusions without knowing the facts is not a person you want as your commander in chief."
I will leave my response to my man Wesley Clark (as posted by Atrios):
Today George W. Bush made a very compelling and thoughtful argument for why he should not be reelected. In his own words, he told the American people that “…a political candidate who jumps to conclusions without knowing the facts is not a person you want as your Commander in Chief.

President Bush couldn’t be more right. He jumped to conclusions about any connection between Saddam Hussein and 911. He jumped to conclusions about weapons of mass destruction. He jumped to conclusions about the mission being accomplished. He jumped to conclusions about how we had enough troops on the ground to win the peace. And because he jumped to conclusions, terrorists and insurgents in Iraq may very well have their hands on powerful explosives to attack our troops, we are stuck in Iraq without a plan to win the peace, and Americans are less safe both at home and abroad.

By doing all these things, he broke faith with our men and women in uniform. He has let them down. George W. Bush is unfit to be our Commander in Chief.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wow where to start, first its old news that people are digging up and putting a ribbon on it to make it look new. Next let’s get an order of events down. There are three possibilities on when the explosives were moved; First in the 3 weeks between the IAEA inspecting the site in March and when the 3rd ID rolled in on April 4th, Second, during six days when the 3rd ID left and the 101st AB moved in, or finally during the 7 weeks when the 101st AB left and the Iraq Survey Group found the stock piles missing on May 27th.

What we know about the IAEA’s inspection in March.

“(…) Then in March, shortly before the war began, the I.A.E.A. conducted another inspection and found that the HMX stockpile was still intact and still under seal. But inspectors were unable to inspect the RDX stockpile and could not verify that the RDX was still at the compound. (…)”

So far so good, thank god for the IAEA. It seems RDX, the explosive that could be used in the construction of nuclear weapons was ok for Saddam to have even though it could have been destroyed under sanctions and useless enough not to confirm if it’s still under seal or even there. You’re right American was safer when the IAEA inspectors were on duty.

What we know about the actions of the 3rd ID and 101st AB.

“(…) The war in Iraq began March 20. Army officials told NBC News on condition of anonymity that troops from the Army’s 3rd Infantry did not arrive at Al-Qaqaa until April 4, finding “looters everywhere” carrying what they could out on their backs.
The troops searched bunkers and found conventional weapons but no high explosives, the officials said. Six days later, the 101st Airborne Division arrived. Neither group was specifically searching for HMX or RDX, and the complex is so large — with more than 1,000 buildings — that it is not clear that the troops even saw the bunkers that might have held the explosives. (…)”

So we now know that there was looting BEFORE the 3rd ID arrived at the complex. We also know the 3rd ID and the 101st AB searched the complex but was not looking for the explosives. However a more extensive search was apparently conducted by the 3rd ID.

“(…) U.S. troops found thousands of boxes of white powder, nerve agent antidote and Arabic documents on how to engage in chemical warfare at an industrial site south of Baghdad. But a senior U.S. official familiar with initial testing said the materials were believed to be explosives.

Col. John Peabody, engineer brigade commander of the 3rd Infantry Division, said the materials were found Friday at the Latifiyah industrial complex just south of Baghdad.

"It is clearly a suspicious site," Peabody said. (…)”

“(…)The senior U.S. official, based in Washington and speaking on condition of anonymity, said the material was under further study. The site is enormous and U.S. troops are still investigating it for potential weapons of mass destruction, the official said.

"Initial reports are that the material is probably just explosives, but we're still going through the place," the official said.

Peabody said troops found thousands of boxes, each of which contained three vials of white powder, together with documents written in Arabic that dealt with how to engage in chemical warfare. (…)”

“(…)The facility had been identified by the International Atomic Energy Agency as a suspected chemical, biological and nuclear weapons site. U.N. inspectors visited the plant at least nine times, including as recently as Feb. 18.

The facility is part of a larger complex known as the Latifiyah Explosives and Ammunition Plant al Qa Qaa. (…)”

So clearly the 3rd ID was searching and found suspicious materials in the compound. Col. John Peabody seems to understand the importance of the compound. Also keep I mind that NO ONE from ANY UNIT mentions seeing IAEA seals on the complex.
What we know about the 7 week gap.
We don’t know much but let’s use some common sense shall we? We are in college after all. We’re talking about 380 tons of explosives. How are we going to move that 380 tons? Wheel barrels? Hand carts? Shopping bags? Trucks make the most sense, so let’s assume we use them and that the average truck can carry 10 tons at a time. That would mean you would need 38 trucks to move those explosives and you would have to move them at a time when almost every major road was clogged with US supply columns monitored by aerial drones and constant intel over flights. Also you would need a fairly large number of people to move it. I would assume to move it in a timely matter we would need at least 100 or more people. Then on top of that we would need to have storage locations for the explosives. Let’s not forget we would also have to know were the explosives are, the complex is huge and all the explosives should have been sealed. And even after you do all that we would have to be able to identify the material as explosives.

“(…)While he and other military officials acknowledged that some looting at the site had taken place, he said a large-scale operation to remove the explosives using multi-ton trucks would almost certainly have been detected. (…)”

What we know about Iraq’s recent activities with these explosives.

“(…) The relocation and consumption of HMX (a high explosive of potential use in nuclear weapons), as described in Iraq's backlog of semi-annual declarations, has been investigated by the IAEA. In those declarations, Iraq stated that, between 1998 and 2002, it had transferred 32 of the 228 tonnes of HMX which had been under IAEA seal as of December 1998 to other locations. In addition, Iraq stated that a very small quantity (46 kg) of HMX had been used at munitions factories for research and development. At the request of the IAEA, Iraq has provided further clarification on the movement and use of the HMX. In that clarification, Iraq indicated that the 32 tonnes of HMX had been blended with sulphur to produce industrial explosives and provided mainly to cement plants for quarrying, and that the research and development using the small quantity of HMX had been in the areas of personnel mines, explosives in civilian use, missile warhead filling and research on tanks. (…)”
So we can see Iraq had no problem removing material from IAEA seals for explosives, personnel mines, missile warhead filling and research on tanks. Perhaps the pending threat of a US invasion would provide motivation to remove these explosives of later use?
And finally from our first article.
“(…)These officials stressed that, in any event, there was no evidence that the missing HMX or RDX had been used against coalition forces in Iraq. (…)”

NOTE: The link to the first article I used changed, thanks to MSNBC; I did however use the new article and will try to find the old one in their archives.