Emails from readers today have told us that New York Times reporters, responding to their questions about the Times’ Al Qaqaa reporting, say that they interviewed an officer of the 3rd Infantry Division unit that first occupied Al Qaqaa early in April 2003, and he says that they did not search the facility for weapons. (Boy, would I like to see a transcript of that interview. But, of course, the Times isn’t making it public–just their own spin.) Now, the Associated Press has made public at least a portion of their own interview with Col. David Perkins, who commanded the 2nd Brigade of the 3rd Infantry Division. As reported by the AP, the interview is quite different from what the Times has represented:
The infantry commander whose troops first captured the Iraqi weapons depot where 377 tons of explosives disappeared said Wednesday it is “very highly improbable” that someone could have trucked out so much material once U.S. forces arrived in the area.
Two major roads that pass near the Al-Qaqaa installation were filled with U.S. military traffic in the weeks after April 3, 2003, when U.S. troops first reached the area, said Col. David Perkins.
Perkins’ description seemed to point toward the possibility that the explosives were removed before the U.S.-led invasion to oust Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, rather than during the chaos afterward.
[T]he Pentagon said in a statement, “The movement of 377 tons of heavy ordnance would have required dozens of heavy trucks and equipment moving along the same roadways as U.S. combat divisions occupied continually for weeks prior to and subsequent to the 3rd I.D.’s arrival at the facility.”
According to Perkins, his 2nd Brigade arrived in the area near Al-Qaqaa on April 3, 2003, as part of the first large coalition combat force to come so close to Baghdad. His troops were attacked by Iraqi forces based inside the installation, he said. Al-Qaqaa had more than 80 buildings in a walled complex.
Perkins estimated there were a few hundred enemy fighters. He sent the 3rd Battalion of the 15th Infantry to secure the base and the surrounding area, he said. A company of mechanized infantry and a mortar platoon entered the installation and defeated the Iraqi forces.
As the rest of Perkins’ brigade moved on, the 3rd Battalion spent two days in the area looking for other Iraqi forces, Perkins said. The Americans did not specifically search for any high explosives, although they were aware that Al-Qaqaa was an important site for what was believed to be Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction programs.
Some troops found a white powdery substance on the base. But it was tested and determined it was not a chemical or biological weapon, as had been suspected, he said. Perkins did not know what it was.
Troops found other weapons, including artillery shells, on the base, he said. They didn’t specifically search for the 377 tons of high explosives, HMX and RDX, that are missing.
I’m not sure how you would “specifically search for” seven hundred fifty-four thousand pounds of explosives, but somehow, I suspect that if you saw them, you’d notice.
Perkins described Iraq as littered with weapons and Al-Qaqaa as one munitions depot among many.
The last point is important: to date, the U.S. military has secured 400,000 tons of munitions in Iraq. At most, the Al Qaqaa explosives would represent less than 1/10 of 1% of the munitions that have been secured and, for the most part, destroyed. Let’s assume that the New York Times and John Kerry are correct, even though, as noted this morning, the Times has backed off their story and said they have no idea when the explosives left Al Qaqaa. Giving the Times and Kerry the benefit of the doubt, the American armed forces were more than 99.9% effective in securing Iraqi explosives. And this is what John Kerry calls “incompetence”? His grotesque insult to America’s troops should insure that he gets no votes next week from any military families, or from anyone who respects the American armed forces.
As we have already noted, news accounts in the Washington Post, the New York Times, CBS and other outlets described the search that the 3rd I.D. carried out at Al Qaqaa and the materials they found there. What they did not find there, of course, were 380 tons of explosives under U.N. seal.
The Kerry campaign’s latest effort to salvage this dying story has been to seize on footage shot by a Twin Cities camera crew that was embedded with the 101st Airborne unit that passed through Al Qaqaa on its way to Baghdad, approximately six days after the 3rd I.D. The local angle is kind of interesting; many readers have noted that the Twin Cities ABC News affiliate has retained some photos and file footage that may be from Al Qaqaa. The TV station, KSTP, says:
Officials with the 101st airborne division and G.P.S. technology confirms our position on or near the southern edge of the Al Qaqaa installation back on April 18, 2003 – nine days after the fall of Baghdad.
This is, of course, after the 3rd I.D. were there.
On the April 2003 visit, our crews witnessed soldiers using bolt cutters to get into bunkers. Inside, they found many containers marked “explosives.” At least one set of crates carried the name “Al-Qaqaa State Establishment.”
Another bunker encountered by the 101st Airborne and the