Officials Say Chances of Enemy Ordnance Move Nearly Nil
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 27, 2004 The chances that enemy forces moved 377 tons of heavy ordnance out of the Al Qaqaa arms facility after U.S. forces arrived in the area are nearly impossible, said Army Col. David Perkins, who commanded the American troops who took the area during major combat operations in Iraq in 2003.
Perkins commanded 2nd Brigade of the 3rd Infantry Division. A unit under his command, the 3rd Battalion, 15th Infantry, entered the depot on April 3, 2003, and defeated the enemy forces there in a two-day battle.
The U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency had tagged the explosives at the site and departed before hostilities started. On May 27, 2003, experts with the 75th Exploitation Task Force confirmed the IAEA-sealed explosives were missing.
Perkins, now assigned to the Joint Staff, said it is "highly improbable" that the enemy was able to take the explosives out any time after U.S. forces arrived in the area. It would require "that the enemy sneaks a convoy of 10-ton trucks in and loads them up in the dark of night and infiltrates them in your convoy and moves out," he said. "That's kind of a stretch too far."
When his battalion arrived at Al Qaqaa April 3, it engaged several hundred enemy soldiers and the paramilitary Fedayeen Saddam in the area. The unit killed or captured all who were there, with the battle lasting through April 5.
"This site was open," Perkins said. "(Enemy) forces were moving in and out. We didn't know what was there."
At the same time, Perkins said, the soldiers of the unit did an initial assessment of the depot. "The concern was what's the capability of the munitions, rather than how much was there," he said
His soldiers concentrated on looking for weapons of mass destruction, especially chemical weapons. They found suspicious white powder and reported that through the chain of command. A chemical unit arrived, tested the powder and determined it was safe. The soldiers did not find the IAEA- sealed explosives.
Iraq was one of the most heavily armed countries on Earth. Perkins said it is important to remember that in its push to Baghdad, the brigade passed many depots containing thousands upon thousands of tons of arms and armaments. The brigade had no indication that the Al Qaqaa depot was anything special. "It was just another cache of weapons like the dozens we had passed," Perkins said.
The unit left the area April 5. "The mission was to quickly defeat the enemy and cause the collapse of the regime," Perkins said. "So what we did then was continue to push down the east side of the Euphrates because there was a whole brigade of the Medina division facing them."
After the 3rd Infantry Division left the area, the 2nd Brigade, 101st Airborne Division, took up residence through April 11.
The 75th Exploitation Task Force visited the facility May 7, May 11 and May 27. They found no IAEA material during any of these visits.
The depot is located at the intersection of two major roads. Both are major convoy routes for American supplies going into Iraq, and they were jammed with U.S. vehicles at all times. There is no evidence, Pentagon officials said, that there was any large-scale movement of explosives or anything else for that matter from the facility.