Video: Explosives Went Missing After War

Report: Video Shows Explosives Went Missing After War (Reuters)

ABC News on Thursday showed video that appeared to confirm that explosives that went missing in Iraq did not disappear until after the United States had taken control of the facility where they were stored. The disappearance of the hundreds of tons of explosives from the Al Qaqaa storage facility has become a hotly contested issue in the U.S. presidential campaign. Democrat John Kerry said it was an example of President Bush bungling the Iraq war. Bush countered that Kerry was making wild accusations without knowing the facts. Vice President Dick Cheney said it was possible that the explosives had been removed from the site before the U.S. forces arrived there.

ABC said the video was shot by an affiliate TV station embedded with the 101st Airborne Division when members of the division passed through the facility on April 18, nine days after the fall of Baghdad. ABC said experts who have studied the images say the barrels seen in the video contain the high explosive HMX, and U.N. markings on the sealed containers were clear. The barrels were found inside locked bunkers that had been sealed by inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency just before the war began, ABC reported.

Video Shows G.I.’s at Weapon Cache

Yesterday evening, the Pentagon released a satellite image of the complex taken just two days after the inspectors left, showing a few trucks parked in front of some bunkers. It is not clear they are the bunkers with the high explosives. “All we are trying to demonstrate is that after the I.A.E.A. left, and the place was under Saddam’s control, there was activity,” said Lawrence DiRita, the Pentagon spokesman. It is not clear from the photo what activity, if any, was under way.

On Thursday, a top Iraqi official said the interim government had spoken to witnesses who said the material was still at Al Qaqaa at the time Baghdad fell.

The videotape , taken by KSTP-TV, an ABC affiliate in Minneapolis-St. Paul, shows troops breaking into a bunker and opening boxes and examining barrels. Many of the containers are marked “explosive.” One box is marked “Al Qaqaa State Establishment,” apparently a shipping label from a manufacturer. The ABC crew said the video was taken on April 18. The timing is critical to the debate in the presidential campaign. By the Pentagon’s own account, units of the 101st Airborne Division were near Al Qaqaa for what Mr. DiRita said was “two to three weeks,” starting April 10. Then they headed north to Baghdad, and the site was apparently left unguarded. By the time special weapons teams returned to Al Qaqaa in May, the explosives were apparently gone.

Intriguing if still inconclusive. The arguments made by Ralph Peters and others still strike me as rather powerful evidence that it was unlikely the materials dissappeared after the U.S. had secured the area.

A story in today’s WaPo adds some perspective to the story as well–some good and some bad for the Bush administration.

Analysis: Munitions Issue Dwarfs the Big Picture
(Bradley Graham and Thomas E. Ricks A01)

“There is something truly absurd about focusing on 377 tons of rather ordinary explosives, regardless of what actually happened at al Qaqaa,” Anthony H. Cordesman, a senior analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, wrote in an assessment yesterday. “The munitions at al Qaqaa were at most around 0.06 percent of the total.” Retired Army Gen. Wayne A. Downing, who served briefly as President Bush’s adviser on counterterrorism and has criticized some aspects of the administration’s performance, said yesterday he considered the missing-explosives issue “bogus.”


Whatever the case, the military significance of the loss, in a country awash with far larger amounts of munitions, is open to question. The most powerful of the three explosives — HMX — can be used in a trigger for nuclear devices, which is why it was placed under IAEA seal. But HMX is obtainable elsewhere, and the chief U.S. weapons investigator in Iraq, Charles A. Duelfer, has acknowledged that the Iraqi stockpile posed no particular concern in this regard.

Matthew Bunn, a Harvard University expert in nuclear weapons and terrorism, said that although he is concerned by the removal of the explosives, he is far more worried by IAEA reports that large quantities of sophisticated equipment, such as electron beam welders, were looted and removed from Iraq’s nuclear weapons program. “That material, which would be quite useful to a nuclear weapons program, was also well known to the United States, was not guarded and today is probably in hostile hands,” with Iran being a likely recipient, said Bunn, who noted that he has been advising the Kerry campaign but does not speak for it.

What’s particularly interesting to me is the side debate, about whether criticizing Bush for this issue amounts to blaming the troops. This strikes me as a span of control issue. If in fact these weapons went missing after the fall of Baghdad, then it’s certainly legitimate to question Bush’s leadership if 1) the administration did not issue instructions to secure these facilities or 2) commanders on the ground had to choose which facilities to guard because there were inadequate soldiers for the task. If neither of these conditions are met, then it’s instead a judgment call made by commanders on the ground–at what level, exactly, I’m not sure–and it would be useful to get an explanation for why that decision was made. In no case, though, are the “troops,” if one means enlisted soldiers or junior officers, to blame.

The other side story is the political interplay between the IAEA, the New York Times, and the Kerry campaign. Certainly, the reporting of a story on something that may or may not have happened eighteen months ago at this juncture is harmful to the Bush campaign. Without question, both the NYT editorial board and the leadership of the IAEA want Bush defeated. So the question of timing is indeed interesting. Did the IAEA just now discover that these munitions were missing? The NYT? Inquiring minds want to know.

Update: Wizbangers Kevin Aylward and Paul point out some deficiencies in the ABC report.

Hindrocket has some rather extensive analysis as well.

[T]o 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”?

The KSTP video can be viewed here.

FILED UNDER: 2004 Election, Iraq War, Media, Terrorism, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. McGehee says:

    The team at Wizbang have dissected the video ABC ran, and come to — shall we say, a different conclusion than Reuters, et al?

  2. reliapundit says:

    what we see in the video may be ONLY 3 TONS!

    This stuff is NOT DENSE, like say… LEAD.

    It’s a powder, most often.

    Powders are LIGHTWEIGHT.

    377 TONS would fill 40 trucks.

    I unloaded trucks for a few years (after school, while in highschool, and one summer in college).

    I did not see 40 truckloads of containers in the video.

    REPEAT: I did not see 40 trucks-worth of containers on the video.

    EVEN IF IT IS 377 tons, that’s only 1/10 of 1% of what we’ve destroyed in Iraq – so far.

    If it was JUST 3 tons, then it’s only…

    one one-thousandth . . . 1/1000.

    This fact alone makes the entire story/”scandal ABSURD! At least according to Anthony Cordesman in today’s WaPo – and he’s the longtime ABC TV military analyst (a non-partisan guy).

    The NYTimes editors and reporters aren’t dumb – they can do math — THEY KNOW THE AMOUNT IS relatively MINISCULE. They KNOW THIS, and yet still went forward with the story —- which proves taht they know they are writing a SLANTED/DISTORTED MISLEADING HIT PIECE for Kerry.

    Carrying Kerry’s water the way Kerry carried water for ther Vietcong.

  3. Mike says:

    The video shows explosives and soldiers looking at the containers. Are those the explosives that went missing? How many tons of explosives were there to begin with?

  4. ken says:

    Nice recovery James. I thought you had almost lost touch with reality the last time you visited this issue.

    Your question of why this is just coming out now, a week before the election is simple. Iraq and the IAEA just this month officially declared that explosives were missing. But since for the last eighteen months we know that many more tons and tons of munition depots had been looted a better question is why the incompetence of the Bush adminstration was not being reported until just now.

    Bush failed us all and our troops in two ways. He never ordered this particular depot guarded or destroyed, yet the IAEA repeatedly warned him about its dangerous contents. Second he had too few soldiers on the ground to do the job right militarily, ie guard or destroy all enemy munitions before they fall into the wrong hands, and for political reasons he refused to correct his error.

  5. ken says:

    “The arguments made by Ralph Peters and others still strike me as rather powerful evidence that it was unlikely the materials dissappeared after the U.S. had secured the area. ”

    A comic one asked ‘who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?’.

    Who do you believe James, the eyewitnessess with video proof that the explosives were there on April 19, or someone with a spin more comforting to your faith in GWBush?

  6. LJD says:

    Only a matter of time before this is all cleared up. An army Major has come forward, claiming that 250 tons of the stuff were dealt with by the 3rd I.D. I also heard reports that the IAEA actually allowed the Iraqis to use over 30 tons of it for “construction purposes”. This whole issue amounts to a pointless bean counting.

    The onus is not on our Government to prove the stuff was not there. If claims of incompetence are to be made, the responsibility lies with the IAEA to account for what was actually there, and when it came up missing. They don’t seem to be able to do so.

    Too bad the dems and John Kerry had to try tarnishing our troops before they knew the answers. He is doing everything he can to shoot himself in the foot before next Tuesday. I suppose its lucky for him that there are only a few days left for him to put his foot in his mouth.

  7. Anjin-San says:

    Blaming the troops? The GOP alleady has that covered> And directry, not by som sort of extension of an argument…

  8. fuzzboy says:

    The stuff is gone and no one knows for sure how much was there and what happened to it when. That in itself is a problem. We are not talking about some missing fruit at the local super market. These are high yield explosives.

    Some say well it was moved before we got here. That is great so how do you know it was moved and where did it go? When did it move?

    Some now say we destroyed some of something. How much of what and where did it come from? Who destroyed it and by what means? When was it destroyed?

    And some say that it was there it was a lot and we did not guard it well enough so it is gone. Again How much? Who guarded it? Where did it go? When did it go?

    At the end of the day the real problem is that we don’t know and we should know the President should know the answer to all theses questions. The Failure is that he does not know and almost a week has passed and he still does not know. Where is the paper work? Where are the orders? Where are the pictures that are consistent? Inspector’s photo gallery: Here we are In front of the stuff? Here are the documents that tell us what the stuff is. He I am locking it away and putting my magic seal on it. Here is the US army arriving on seen. Here is us cutting the seal. Here is a close up of the seal so you can see it is the same number. Here is the inventory of what we found and what was done with it.

    In a world where it takes three pages to tell the government how much money they took out of our taxes and how much they owe me back. And Legal briefs about absentee ballots that look more like novels from Opera’s book of the month club. You would think there would be a better paper trail.

    So who’s fault is all this well I say it is old Georges fault. Even if the people under him did the screw up at the end of the day not matter what he or anybody else says the buck does stop at his desk.

  9. John Anderson says:

    At last! I’ve been going to ABC and KSTP sites and not finding the video, thanks for the link!

    Now, about roughly 140 tons of the stuff, ie all the RDX:
    . I first started posting this 10.27 with little or no response, probably because I did not include links and noone could find the story – I stumbled across it by accident and had trouble finding it again, so I’ve added the links and how to find it on Google. Is that better?
    10.25.2004 ?RDX never at alQQ? And never sealed?
    . text
    . audio Real player
    . audio WIndows player
    IAEA spokeswoman Melissa Fleming interview on ABC (Australia) – “IAEA inspectors visited Al-Mahaweel on Jan. 15, 2003, and verified the RDX inventory by weighing sampling,” Fleming said. She said the RDX at Al-Mahaweel was NOT UNDER SEAL [emphasis added – JSA] but was subject to IAEA monitoring.”
    “The bulk of the RDX was stored at ANOTHER SITE that was under Al Qaqaa’s jurisdiction,” IAEA spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said.
    She says that the report seen by ABC only covers the Al Qaqaa site itself.
    The second site, Al Mahaweel, is roughly 45 kilometres from Al Qaqaa.
    Well, so much for about 140 of the 372 tons? Or what?
    10.29.2004 3ID says “I did not see any IAEA seals at any of the locations we went into,” Maj. Austin Pearson said.
    Search google for “Mahaweel” – is the only one in the US to have this?
    . But search “Melissa Fleming” and you find the Australian ABC entry.
    . What KSTP video? pics of a seal on the ABC/KSTP are of a “sample” seal, not from the video!
    . and from “r-dubya” comment at the Captain’s place “The close up picture from KSTP is a cropped photo that is available at the IAEA site. It is not a close up of the seal that the news crew may have viewed at whatever bunker they had filmed.
    . Another paper has done the story! but thinks it was the 28th: guys, it was the 25th!
    . OK, the video is available, my bad – but at least one thing said raises a warning flag, the claim that the 3ID did not search alQQ between the 3rd and the 13th: funny, at the time (the 4th for CBS, the 6th for NYT), it was reported that the 3ID did search, finding explosives and documents.