The Pentagon is trying to clear up a controversy over the possible disappearance of 340 metric tons of explosives from a military base in Iraq, but more questions remain to be answered. A U.S. soldier with the army division charged with removing explosives in Iraq says he cannot be sure if what he removed corresponds with the missing explosives.
Army Major Austin Pearson says his team removed about 250 tons of ammunition and explosives from an Iraqi military base south of Baghdad about 10 days after U.S. forces reached the area in April of 2003.
But he cannot confirm whether any of it corresponds to more than 340 tons of explosives the International Atomic Energy Agency says it sealed before war began, which news reports suggest were looted by Iraqi insurgents.
"I did not see any IAEA seals at the locations we went into," said Major Pearson. "I was not looking for that. My specific mission was simply to go in there and to prevent the exposure of U.S. forces, and to minimize that by taking out what was easily accessible, and putting it back, and bringing it into our captured ammunition holding area."
The Pentagon also has released reconnaissance photos taken of vehicles at the site, but no specific details about when the the contents of the bunker had been removed or by whom. On Monday, The New York Times and CBS News reported the explosives had disappeared from the Iraqi military base, while it was supposed to be under U.S. military control.
ABC News aired a video Thursday of the Al-Qaqaa base - apparently made before the explosives disappeared - showing U.S. troops breaking a seal and entering a bunker full of barrels.
The U.N. agency in charge of inspecting Iraqi toxic weapons arsenals says it warned Washington that the explosives under IAEA seal at the military locations could easily be stolen.
Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita says the Pentagon is trying to clear up the confusion.
"The facts that we've learned since then have caused some doubt about the initial report, but that's always the case, and that's nobody's fault," Mr. Di Rita said. "You hear a report, and you try to enrich that report with knowledge and facts. And we've tried to do that."
Mr. Di Rita says U.S. forces have captured and destroyed 400,000 tons of ammunition, some of it the same type as the high-energy explosives reported to have disappeared.