The Washington Times

Army probes buried trailers

April 15, 2003
Section: NATION

Page: A20


U.S. Army forces have discovered 11 large containers with equipment inside that appear to be elements of Iraq's covert mobile chemical and biological weapons program.

The vessels, described as modified container express, or conex, trailers, were found buried near Karbala, about 50 miles south of Baghdad. The site was near a weapons plant, defense and military officials said.

The containers, also called vans, were discovered by troops of the 101st Airborne Division. The Army's 75th Intelligence Exploitation Unit was sent to the site to examine the containers.

"Obviously this shows that they [Saddam Hussein's government] were pursuing a covert weapons program," one official said. "We still need actual proof of the weapons themselves."

Army Maj. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, deputy director of operations for the Joint Staff, said the vans are being investigated "very seriously."

Gen. McChrystal told reporters at the Pentagon that other suspected chemical weapons found last week have not proved to be weapons. Other samples are still being investigated.

The 20-foot by 20-foot metal containers can be attached to trucks or rail cars. In addition to the containers, some 1,000 pounds of documents were discovered at the site.

"Initial reports indicate that this is clearly a case of denial and deception on the part of the Iraqi government," Army Brig. Gen. Benjamin Freakly told CNN in Karbala. "These chemical labs are present, and now we just have to determine what in fact they were really being used for."

Gen. Freakly described the containers as "dual-use, chemical and biological."

The mobile laboratories contained an estimated $1 million worth of new equipment and were "clearly marked so they could be found again," he said.

"These chemical labs are present, and now we just have to determine what in fact they were really being used for," Gen. Freakly said.

Iraq's mobile weapons vans were an element of a highly detailed intelligence briefing presented to the United Nations in February by Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, who called mobile weapons facilities "one of the most worrisome things" about Iraq's arms programs.

Mr. Powell said intelligence on the vans was obtained from several Iraqis, including an Iraqi chemical engineer in 2000 who supervised a mobile production facility for biological and chemical weapons.

"He actually was present during biological agent production runs," Mr. Powell said Feb. 5. "He was also at the site when an accident occurred in 1998. Twelve technicians died from exposure to biological agents."

At least 18 of the vans were thought to be hidden in Iraq, Mr. Powell said.

"The trucks and train cars are easily moved and are designed to evade detection by inspectors," he said. "In a matter of months, they can produce a quantity of biological poison equal to the entire amount that Iraq claimed to have produced in the years prior to the Gulf war."

United Nations weapons inspectors sent to Iraq earlier this year were unable to find any mobile facilities for banned weapons.

Weapons inspectors visited the site where the containers were found on Feb. 23. It was known as the Karbala Ammunition Filling Plant.

Chief U.N. arms inspector Hans Blix dismissed the U.S. claims about the mobile facilities on March 7.