Fox's Misleading Headline on Explosives

The administration's faithful defenders at Fox News are trying mightily to make the case that the explosives were gone before troops arrived, but they're doing so with misleading headlines. Look at this article on their website headlined "Search Showed No Explosives at Iraqi Base Before War's End". But the article itself says nothing of the kind. Here's the first paragraph of the article, which is supposed to sum up what the article actually says:

U.S. forces searched several times last year the Iraqi military base from which 380 tons of explosives vanished -- including one check a week before Saddam Hussein was driven out of power. But the military saw no signs of a huge quantity of munitions, Pentagon officials told FOX News.

But the article in fact shows quite the contrary, that the two units that did briefly stop at Al Qaqaa didn't do anything like a thorough search and that they found most of the bunkers still sealed. US troops were around the facility twice, the 3rd Infantry on April 3rd and the 101st Airborne in April 10th. What does the article actually report about those visits? Take a look. Of the 3rd Infantry Division stop:

On April 3, 2003, elements of the Army's 3rd Infantry Division (search) made it to Al-Qaqaa, where they were engaged by Iraqi forces from inside the facility, Defense officials told FOX News.

The 3rd Infantry soldiers stayed long enough to battle the Iraqis and to give the facility a brief inspection before heading out to continue on their prime objective -- reaching the Iraqi capital.

So in fact this group did not search the facility, as the commander of the division said several days ago. In fact, he said that he would have needed 4 times as many soldiers to search and secure the facility and still follow their main objective, which was to march to Baghdad. But from the AP story on April 5th, we have confirmation that in the brief search they did do, they found thousands of boxes of white powder explosives (both HMX and RDX are white powders) and did not secure them. So the brief inspection they did in fact showed that the explosives were there.

Now, what of the 101st Airborne on April 10th? We already have the testimony from the NBC reporters embedded with this group that they did not do a search of the facility, just a few soldiers wandered off on their own in a complex of over a hundred buildings and bunkers. And the Fox News story confirms that no search was done, and in fact that they were specifically not told to search for explosives:

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," Lt. Col. Fred Wellman, deputy public affairs officer for the unit, wrote in an e-mail to The Associated Press. "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, as they [high-explosive weapons] were everywhere in Iraq," he wrote.

So all they did was search a few bunkers for chemical weapons, but did not do a thorough search or secure the complex. And the Fox News reporter who was with them in fact confirms that most of the bunkers were still sealed at the time:

FOX News' Dana Lewis was with the 2nd Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division when it stopped at the site on April 10 for 24 hours before continuing on to Baghdad.

"It was sealed in the sense that when we arrived, no one was inside," Lewis said, adding that there were dozens of abandoned Iraqi tanks outside the facility.

"Inside, we walked around dozens of concrete bunkers, which were still sealed. Many still had padlocks on the doors and in another part of this giant walled compound, we saw dozens and dozens of rockets, most of them damaged from air strikes."

The Fox News story also quotes yet another embedded reporter who was with the 101st Airborne that no search was done because there was not adequate manpower or a mission to do so:

Associated Press correspondent Chris Tomlinson, who was embedded with the 3rd Infantry but didn't go to Al-Qaqaa, described the search of Iraqi military facilities south of Baghdad as brief, cursory missions to seek out hostile troops, not to inventory or secure weapons.

The enormous size of the bases, the rapid pace of the advance on Baghdad and a limited number of troops made it impossible for U.S. commanders to allocate any soldiers to guard any of the facilities after making a check, Tomlinson said.

The facts in the story don't even remotely support the headline, and in fact the facts strongly cut against the headline being true. This is rather glaring dishonesty, but it appears to be a necessary fiction for those who want to defend the administration. If they had any real evidence to support their case, they wouldn't have to resort to such falsehoods.

Also take a look at this story from a TV station in Minneapolis that Jim Anderson found. It includes pictures inside a bunker full of drums of explosive material in the Al Qaqaa facility taken by its embedded reporters on April 18th, 2003. It also reports that those bunkers were still sealed when they got there and that the troops had to cut off the padlocks to get inside of them. Again, very compelling evidence that those explosives were there after the invasion and were looted sometime after we took control of Iraq. But hey, what do I know. I'm biased.

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I do not believe there were WMD in Iraq. I did not think so before the war, and I do not think so now. But I could be wrong. And if I am wrong, there is a very good chance that they have fallen into the wrong hands.

What a mess. We went to war to secure WMDs, but did we actually do anything in that direction once we got there? It seems unlikely. There could have been WMDs in the arsenal being discussed, for crying out loud. Incredible. What a bunch of idiots. This goes beyond even the usual level of government incompetence. Sheesh.

By Perry Willis (not verified) on 28 Oct 2004 #permalink

This quibbling from the Shrub defenders as to when the stuff was in the munitions depot is insane. Who gives a tinker's damn whether the Americans should have defended it from being looted? One would believe that these wackos had never heard of just blowing the g-d place up. It isn't as if they didn't know where the place was. The IAEA inspectors had had it under seal for gawd's sake. A few well-targetted cruise missiles, a daisy cutter, or a cluster bomb, could have taken the place out. The idea that they are quibbling over this mess is idiotic in the extreme.

Oh, let me continue my rant. What would the Bushies want us to believe they might want to preserve the stuff in this munitions depot for? I doubt that the US really has need of 380 tons of moderately high explosive material. And if they don't have an explanation for why it should be preserved, why wasn't it destroyed with the cruise missiles, etc.? Their quibbling makes no sense at all. It is clear that the Bushies want to divert attention from the bigger picture--they want to quibble so that they can divert attention. Don't let them have the advantage of framing the discussion.

I think you make an important point here. It seems obvious to me that ideally we would have done one of two things with not only this facility but with all of the major munitions sites. One option is to locate them and then call in airstrikes and blow them up so there is no chance they could be used again. The second option is to leave units behind to inventory and secure the facilities to make sure they don't get looted while the main divisions continue on to Baghdad. We didn't have enough troops to do the latter, as the commander of the 3rd Infantry said, and they didn't want to just blow them up because they knew they were going to have to try and find the WMD after the war ended in order to justify the invasion. So it appears that they ended up doing neither, leaving them unsecured and rife for looting.