U.S. Has 'Solid Evidence' of Al Qaeda Operating in Iraq
By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sept. 26, 2002 The United States has "solid evidence" senior al Qaeda operatives have been in Baghdad, Iraq, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said today. He could not confirm whether such individuals are still in Iraq.
The secretary said intelligence shared among Coalition members about the al Qaeda relationship with Iraq is "evolving" and of "varying degrees of reliability." Some intelligence was culled from interviews with high-ranking al Qaeda detainees in U.S. custody, Rumsfeld said during an afternoon Pentagon media briefing.
Intelligence agencies have confirmed contacts between Iraq and al Qaeda's leaders. Rumsfeld said the two entities have discussed "safe- haven opportunities in Iraq (and) reciprocal nonaggression" agreements, among other issues. "The reports of these contacts have been increasing since 1998," Rumsfeld said, and have expanded to include "credible evidence" that al Qaeda leaders sought contacts in Iraq for assistance in acquiring weapons of mass destruction capabilities.
One report, in particular, indicates that Iraq provided training in chemical and biological weapons to al Qaeda.
Rumsfeld again reminded that the U.S. goal in dealing with Iraq isn't finding absolute proof, but preventing attacks on America and her allies.
"It is a puzzle," he said about drawing conclusions from scraps of intelligence from various sources. "It is the task of taking these disparate pieces and putting them together so that people can make their own judgment."
At the same briefing, Marine Gen. Peter Pace, vice-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters about recent U.S. military activity in Southern Iraq. Coalition aircraft attacked two Iraqi air defense facilities with precision-guided munitions Sept. 25 after they had been fired upon, he said.
In Afghanistan, U.S. Special Forces uncovered a large weapons cache suspected of belonging to an arms dealer near Orgun, in southeast Afghanistan near the Pakistani border.
The U.S. forces "recovered large amounts of mortar rounds, artillery rounds, rockets, anti-personnel mines, heavy machine gun ammunition, and the like," Pace said.