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Monday, October 25, 2004

NY Times Blows Another One 
It appears that the missing 370 tons of explosives -- made much of by Senator Kerry and other Administration critics as evidence of Bush's incompetence -- was missing before US troops even rolled in.

Drudge is reporting that an NBC News crew was embedded with the unit that rolled up on the Al Qaqa'a weapons facility on April 10th, and found that the expected weapons stores had already been looted.

Now, I never thought that this story was a huge deal to begin with. Yes, insurgents could use the material to make IEDs with. But every tribe in Iraq has huge weapons stores of its own, which they used to hedge against other tribes in the event of a collapse of the Hussein regime. Members of my own battalion dug up mortar shells by the hundreds, and artillery shells by the dozens, the whole time we were there. Digging up another weapons cache was almost a daily occurance at times in Ramadi.

And every few days, we'd get a notice that 30 or 40 or 50 tons of explosives were about to be detonated out in the desert south of Ramadi or west of Fallujah (so we wouldn't get spooked by the huge explosion and the mushroom cloud in the distance.)

370 tons of ordnance sounds like a lot. And it is. But if you know Iraq, it's really a drop in the bucket.

Here's the other reason it was a dumb idea for Democrats to use the missing ordnance as evidence of Bush's incompetence:

It's not the President's job to look at a map and tell the Secretary of Defense what sites he wants secured. It's not even the SecDef's job to do that. The identification and securing of the weapons site was entirely the purview of the military commander on the ground at the time, CENTCOM commander General Tommy Franks.

A Clinton appointee.

Funny how Kerry never calls Franks' competence into question.

I know I don't.

And it turns out that Franks is vindicated. He did what he was supposed to do - US troops were on the scene before the dust even cleared. Now, it is true that he could have dispatched special operations troops to secure the site even earlier. But these troops would have been isolated, and too light to last long on the desert floor, unsupported, in a static defense. On a literal powder keg. It would have been foolish to commit them; the Iraqis obviously showed up in enough strength to move 370 tons pretty quickly.

Special ops troops don't exactly grow on trees, either. A good portion of the available SPECOPS troops were committed to protecting the Iraqi oil infrastructure, as well as the dam at Hadithah.

Had sabateurs gotten to Hadithah or the oil fields before our own guys, Bush would have been raked through the coals for neglecting to secure Iraq's industry, and for allowing the prime power generator for the Euphrates River Valley to go unprotected, and for allowing insurgents to plunge the entire valley into darkness.

You never have enough troops or resources to do everything you want to do. Ever.

So jumping the gun and securing Al Qaqa'a early was not a real option, either, when you adjust the likely outcome against the risk of having an American detachment overwhelmed.

Maybe that wasn't a big deal for Clinton at Mogadishu. But soldiers tend to resent being hung out on a fishhook like that.

Kudos to Captain Ed for being one of the first to call "BS" on the original NY Times story. And to the NBC News crew for showing up.

I can't say the New York Times reporters were inept, though. The White House seemed to confirm the notion that the explosives went missing sometime AFTER the arrival of US troops.

That was clearly an error on the White House's part. The New York Times did what they were supposed to do: try to build a detailed timeline, and write the story from that.

So a good part of the blame has to fall on the White House press office themselves.

We'll see how the New York Times corrects the error, though.

Splash, out

Jason


Comments:
Even if the explosives were all gone before the soldiers arrived (possible, but not definite), it appears that no orders were given to search or secure the materials. The group there on April 10th didn't search for these explosives; they didn't even know that the base was worth further attention -- this is a failure in leadership.

The soldiers did their jobs well -- they didn't stick around, they moved on to Baghdad. I admire the soldiers who've fought in Iraq -- I think you've performed honorably and fought for something which is worth fighting for: I do think the soldiers are fighting for freedom, not for oil.

But one of the things that has come out is it looks like more was done to secure the oil than to secure the security in Iraq. Here -- special ops were already deployed to secure the oil fields; in Baghdad, the ministries with geological survey information were secured, but the locations with live pathogens (not bio weapons, but still scary stuff) were not -- nor were other locations with nuclear materials. For those who question our motives, even the appearance of impropriety (fighting for oil, not freedom) is poisonous. Sometimes appearances matter as much as reality...

Anyway, the thing that makes these 380 tons of explosives different is that this is a base the IAEA was especially concerned about (one of only a handful, supposedly -- because the HE material can be used to ignite nukes, though it's more likely to be used in terrorist attacks). HMX/RDX may be available elsewhere, but in the same quantities? Regardless, saying this is a drop in the bucket emphasizes that we didn't have enough troops when we invaded.

Failing attempt to secure sites the IAEA was concerned about, and generally providing insufficient troops to secure the country are failures in the leadership -- and that goes all the way to the top, to Bush.

Sadly, Bush doesn't seem to be able to admit mistakes. Whether the mistakes are his mistakes or mistakes by others in his cabinet, this is dangerous because it means the US is more likely to repeat those mistakes while he is in charge.
 
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