The Pentagon press conference that just ended throws more doubt on the already discredited claim, first aired this week by the New York Times and the Kerry campaign that the American military lost 380 tons of the high explosives HMX and RDX.
Major Austin Pearson explained that his 24th Ordinance Company was called in after the 3rd Infantry Division arrived at the al Qaqaa facility on April 3, 2003. His unit removed and destroyed approximately 250 tons of explosives from al Qaqaa. His mission was basically to remove “loose” materials that might have been a threat to U.S. forces, not to deal with any tightly sealed bunkers. He did not recall seeing any IAEA seals, but does believe at least some of the tonnage he destroyed was high explosives (which were generically referred to as “plastic explosives” and may well have included RDX). It required 17 trucks to cart away from the facility the 250 tons Major Pearson transported — and the major made the obvious explicit: it would be very hard to imagine looters assembling such a caravan and carting away explosives undetected after the U.S. invasion.
Major Pearson was moved to step forward because of the reporting he had seen this week.
The new information is not a definitive rebuttal to the allegations, nor does the the Defense Department contend that it is. On this score, it is important to remember that (a) the initial 380-ton figure had already been substantially discredited by the IAEA’s own internal records, (b) Saddam’s own trucks were in the area — very likely removing tonnage — after the IAEA left in March, and thus (c) no one can say with certainty how much if ANY of this purported 380 tons (which was probably no more than 200 tons, and may have been as few as 3 tons, by the time of the IAEA’s March inspection) was actually at al Qaqaa at the time of the U.S. arrival there on April 3.
Finally, Pentagon spokesman Larry DeRita stressed that U.S. forces have captured 400,000 tons of explosives in Iraq (and have destroyed a great deal of it). The amount we are talking about, even if the allegation about 380 tons were accurate, is less than one-thousandth of what our troops have seized. There has, moreover, been no explanation of why the IAEA and the UN permitted Saddam Hussein, supposedly disarmed after the 1991 Gulf War, to have 400,000 tons of explosives — including components for long range ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons which were expressly prohibited to Iraq under Security Council resolutions.