October 29, 2004
Not that it matters now, but...
Just saw the Pentagon press conference today. The ordnance major specifically states that he only entered or removed his ordnance from bunkers that were unlocked on April 13. He also stated that there were "no troops awaiting my arrival," ie no sentries of any kind on that date.
So here's the most plausible scenario at the moment, to wrap up this story... all the HMX explosives were still under seal after Baghdad fell. The ammunition removal team came onto the site (possibly through holes in the north barrier wall punched through by the 3rd Inf Div, the Pentagon spokesman confirmed) on April 13, and recovered 200+ tonnes of ammunition and explosives from the bunkers that were, as the major said, "easily accessible." He left the locked bunkers alone.
On April 18, a 101st recon party opened up at least some of those locked bunkers, including probably bunker 47, containing the IAEA's 3 tonnes or RDX in "Yugo drums," to see what was inside them, and then left the site with those bunkers now unlocked.
What happened after that was that the remaining explosives, including all of the IAEA's HMX, RDX and PETN, were swept up and destroyed by some subsequent ordnance removal team, with at least some of it probably being taken by looters in the interim. Because the search and recovery effort at this site does not seem to have been extremely methodical, it's possible we may never know what happened to it more precisely than that. By itself, it's not a big deal. But it is becoming a very well documented microcosm of what no doubt happened at countless sensitive sites across Iraq postwar. Pending further information about those other, later ordnance recovery efforts, though, there's going to be little new to add to this one.
"It was not obvious when the [new Bin Laden] video was recorded." -- BBC
Well, if he refers to "entering the fourth year since Sept. 11" and a Kerry nomination (locked up March 15), I think it's safe to say now that whole Tora Bora thing didn't work out.
Bunker bingo update
The image you're looking at is the southern third of the Al QaQaa bunker complex, oriented to north. You can see the fence around the whole area, and individual bunker buildings.
The bunkers in red are those that were inspected in January 2003 when IAEA inspectors returned, found to be still full of tonnes of HMX stored in cylindrical drums, and resealed. All these explosives are now reportedly gone. The two on the left in a somewhat darker red also had HMX, but it was stored in boxes, not drums, according to the IAEA. There was one more IAEA-sealed bunker farther north in the complex, off the top of this image: in total 194 tonnes of HMX are alleged to be missing from the nine sealed bunkers at Al QaQaa.
The bunker in yellow (bunker #47) is the bunker that in January contained 3 tonnes of RDX explosive in 77 "Yugo drums," and 3.5 tonnes of PETN explosive in boxes, now all apparently missing as well. This bunker was NOT sealed by the IAEA, as they were only interested in tracking the amount of RDX Iraq had at Al QaQaa, not completely denying its use. It is thus conceivable that bunker 47 would have had other sorts of munitions in it as well. (The rest of the missing RDX (125 tonnes) was supposed to have been in another bunker complex altogether, 20 miles away, the IAEA confirmed yesterday.)
The bunkers in green are those where reconnaissance photos released by the DOD yesterday indicate there was some activity in the days just before the war. As you can see, they are not the sealed bunkers, or bunker 47.
The news team accompanying the 101st Airborne said they approached from the southeast of the complex (bottom of the picture), so they were almost certainly in one or more of these bunkers in this photo. (They don't mention going over what would presumably be a chain link fence, so they likely came in through that gate southeast of bunker 47.) Their footage appears to show American soldiers cutting the locks off a non-sealed bunker, which had a large number of containers resembling "Yugo drums" inside, mixed in with some other, non-proscribed munitions. It also showed at least one other bunker nearby with its IAEA seal left intact.
This has been a public service to help you make sense of my and others' previous blathering on this subject. The photo has been lifted from the globalsecurity.org site, cropped and turned so up is north, and the bunker numbers and contents cross-checked with the IAEA January report.
UPDATES: The NY Times says today:
"Mr. Caffrey said the soldiers used bolt cutters to cut through chains with locks on them, as well as [IAEA] seals."
CNN makes the same statement: "...the troops broke a seal to get inside, where they found barrels filled with powdered explosives, according to reporter Dean Staley."
This is not, however, what the news station's own report says or shows. It only shows the soldiers looking into a still-sealed bunker through a high window, and openly wondering what's inside it. The bunker they open up with bolt cutters and enter does not have a seal on it, according to the tape.
This isn't a key point, but it should be clarified. If the soldiers specifically avoided cutting IAEA seals and only opened up the other "Saddam government property" bunkers (including #47 with its RDX), they could be seen as somewhat less culpable for any later theft of the HMX. And if they did have any footage from inside a building that had had a seal on it (so far they have not shown any) that would be a stronger indication whether there was still a quantity of HMX onsite postwar, and whether the Saddam government had respected the IAEA seals prewar.
The Washington Post, meanwhile, has a confusing typo: "That figure was based on a Hussein government declaration in July 2003 of what existed at the site." A declaration from the spiderhole?
Marshall makes a mistake here: "They even have footage of the IAEA seal being clipped off the warehouses as they're going in." No, they don't... they have footage of a door with a seal that was left alone, and another door without a seal that was entered.
Reader feedback on "game, set, match"
Rob. W provides a link between Flit's saying "game, set, match," yesterday, and David Kay, Aaron Brown, Atrios, and Marshall all using the phrase last night.
"I sent a link of your site and quoted you in an E-mail to Josh at 3:00 EST yesterday. I bet that's where he got it. Aaron Brown picked it up too and prompted even David Kay to say it. You get full props."
I don't want props, I want royalties, dammit.
"endearingly macho" -- Mark Steyn
"wonderfully detailed analysis" -- John Allemang, Globe and Mail
"unusually candid" -- Tom Ricks, Foreignpolicy.com
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