Tuesday, October 26, 2004

The RDX, Part 2

Michael Totten at Instapundit notes that the 3ID may have arrived at al Qa Qaa  some time for the 101st Airborne and the NBC embeds.

J. TREVINO AT RED STATE points out that NBC’s Milkaszewski story doesn’t quite debunk the New York Times article that says the Iraqi explosives at al Qa Qaa were lost under American watch. NBC reports that when the 101st Airborne arrived at the site the explosives were already gone. But the Third Infantry Division was there a week earlier.

There are still at least two things we don’t know.

Was the Third Infantry Division the first to arrive at the site? If so, what did they find?

Good questions. However, it is important to understand the RDX issue not as a single event but in the context of the total forces available to CENTCOM at the time and what it was trying to achieve. As I have pointed out elsewhere, the missing RDX was only part of a much larger redeployment of military assets by the dying Ba'ath regime wrapped in the center of a large conventional war.

When 3ID and 101st Airborne first entered Baghdad they were still in active combat when maintaining unit integrity and concentration of forces was important. A review of contemporaneous news articles will show that everyone in the media, and not a few military analysts, believed Baghdad would be defended like Stalingrad. It was a shock to see it fall so quickly though not without a few sharp battles. Very few commanders, I think, would have detached little penny packets of men to stand guard over installations in that situation. Too much potential for defeat in detail and friendly fire accidents, not to mention the fact that it was unclear, at that stage, whether 3ID would have to reduce the Sunni towns further north.

The balance of probability is that the RDX, if it was not already missing before the OIF, disappeared in the early days when conditions were in flux. It was then that the absence of 4ID -- the most modern unit of the day -- must have been most keenly felt. That was when 18,000 men with the latest comms could have made a difference. Could have, because there is no guarantee that all the depots could have been secured even with 4ID available, though its presence could only have helped.

I have repeatedly emphasized the absence of the 4ID not to "absolve" the Administration but because it is the clearest effect of the successful delaying action achieved by the deadlock in the Security Council, whose most signal manifestation was the denial by Turkey of passage to nearly half of the US mechanized infantry strength. But it is not the most insidious aspect of it. Oil-For-Food, the removal of unknown but vast quantities of material to Syria, the mass release of criminals, etc. were not incidental events but related phenomena, at least in my opinion, and all of a piece. Whatever went over the border to Syria, as the Duelfer report confirms, is unlikely to be Hostess Twinkie Pies. And it did not go over by accident.

Instapundit quoted me as saying that the missing RDX in this context had the relevance of a toothache in a man suffering from AIDS and Ebola. By that I meant that the narrow focus of the subject was like seizing upon the tiger's whisker while ignoring the tiger himself. The point of discovering the whisker is understanding what that whisker is attached to.


Reader dan from cos says in the Comments section:

"While I was not on the ground and it has been 18 months since the advance, I seem to remember there was a thorough and almost frantic search for weapons of mass destruction as our foces plowed through the areas. They were also quickly followed by special teams whose job it was to find WMDs and secure them. I find it highly improbable that weapons stores with IAEA seals on them would be allowed to go unsecured."

The NRO has an email from a soldier who had knowledge of the al Qa Qaa search and reiterates that the RDX was already gone when the teams first arrived.

I was serving as a [identifying information removed by the Kerry Spot] staff member during the time in question. The Commander on the site had complete real time intelligence on what to expect and possibly find at the Al-QaQaa depot. The ordinance in question was not found when teams were sent in to inspect and secure the area. When this information was relayed, Operational plans were adjusted and the unit moved forward. Had the ordinance in question been discovered, a security team would have been left in place.

The accusation that America failed in its custodial duties has now been categorically denied, at least by some quarters. What plausibly remains to the critics is the charge that America "could have done more" to reach explosives magazines, which brings us right back to the missing 4ID and the bitter irony that the agency which did the most to prevent this powerful unit from reaching the scene, namely the UN, should now extend the finger of accusation for the absence which they caused. Once again: follow the whisker.