[This story updated at 6:55 p.m. ET 03.30.2003]
Though none have been found to date, the U.S. has long said that seizing and destroying Iraq's weapons of mass destruction is one of the main goals of the war in Iraq. On ABC's "This Week" on Sunday morning (March 30), Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said that those weapons have not yet been found because they are hidden inside cities that troops have not yet entered, such as Baghdad.
"The area in the South and the West and the North that coalition forces control is substantial," Rumsfeld said on the show. "It happens not to be the area where weapons of mass destruction were dispersed. We know where they are, they are in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad."
According to a Sunday report in The Washington Post, Special Operations teams from the U. S., Britain and Australia have found no banned chemical or biological weapons to date in 10 areas that were considered of the highest priority by U.S. Central Command. Despite the lack of chemical-weapons evidence, for the third day in a row, troops found a cache of
hundreds of chemical suits, this time during a raid in Nasiriyah, where two chemical decontamination vehicles and stores of atropine injectors — used as antidotes for nerve agents — were also seized.
U.S. forces raided and destroyed what was described as a "massive" terrorist facility in Northern Iraq on Sunday, which officials suspect could have been an al Qaeda chemical-weapons factory. In an interview with CNN, Joint Chiefs of Staff head General Richard Myers said the outpost is suspected to be a Qaeda training facility and that it may have been the source of the banned ricin poison that was seized in a London apartment in January.
Myers described the site as a large complex with many underground tunnels which could take up to one week to fully investigate.
A UH-1 Huey helicopter, used in a support mission, crashed in Southern Iraq Sunday night, killing three Marines and injuring one other soldier. The crash, which occurred during refueling, was an accident, and not the result of enemy fire, according to media reports. Iraqis claimed they brought down two helicopters on Sunday, including an Apache gunship south of Basra and another chopper in central Iraq. The Pentagon was not able to verify the reports.
Between 10 and 15 American troops were injured at a U.S. military base in Kuwait after being rammed by a pickup truck on Sunday. The attack took place at Camp Udairi, which serves primarily as a maintenance and supply location for the Army's V Corps. Details about who was driving the vehicle — a white Nissan — remained unclear at press time.
The attack came a day after four U.S. troops were killed in a suicide car bombing and an Iraqi official promised that suicide strikes would increasingly play a part of the regime's war plan. During Saturday's attack, Marines inspecting a taxicab near the city of Najaf perished after the driver detonated the car. Iraqi Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan later said suicide attacks will "be routine military policy. We will use any means to kill our enemy in our land and we will follow the enemy into its land. This is only the beginning and you will hear more good news in coming days."
In the southern city of Basra, British forces captured an Iraqi general on Sunday who they say is the highest-ranking Iraqi prisoner to date; those forces also killed a colonel in the elite Republican Guard. A British spokesperson said, "We'll be asking him quite politely if he's willing to assist us to continue our operations against the paramilitary forces in Basra."
A soon-to-be-published report says that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld repeatedly denied requests from top generals during the run-up to war to deploy a larger fighting force to the Persian Gulf region. On six occasions, Rumsfeld argued successfully that the number of troops should be reduced, according to an article that will appear in this week's New Yorker magazine. "He thought he knew better. He was the decision-maker at every turn," an unidentified Pentagon official said in the article. "This is the mess Rummy put himself in because he didn't want a heavy footprint on the ground."
General Tommy Franks, who is overseeing operations in the Gulf, said he had not requested a larger force during the planning stages of the war. And Franks angrily rebutted charges that the U.S.-led campaign in Iraq is off track. "We're in fact on plan. And where we stand today is not, in my view, only acceptable, but truly remarkable," he told reporters during a briefing at Central Command's headquarters in Qatar.
Franks also left open the possibility that war will last months, not weeks. "One never knows how long a war will take," he said.
On Saturday, the bodies of four American servicemen missing in action were found buried in two separate shallow graves in Nasiriyah. One body was "brutalized and mutilated," according to an NBC report. The four were believed to have been executed after they were taken by Iraqi paramilitary forces during an ambush last Sunday, according to published reports. The bodies of five other Marines killed in that same ambush were also recovered from a burned-out vehicle on the outskirts of Nasiriyah.
Acting on the same kind of up-to-the-minute "targets of opportunity" information that set off the war in Iraq nearly two weeks ago, two F-15E Strike Eagles dropped laser-guided "bunker buster" bombs on a two-story building in the southern city of Basra on Saturday. The bombs destroyed the building where 200 members of the Fedayeen Saddam — troops said to be intensely loyal to Saddam Hussein — were meeting.
Other key developments over the weekend: