NEW YORK - An NBC News reporter embedded with a U.S. army unit that seized an Iraqi installation three weeks into the war said Tuesday that she saw no signs that the Americans searched for the powerful explosives that are now missing from the site.
Reporter Lai Ling Jew, who was embedded with the Army's 101st Airborne, Second Brigade, said her news team stayed at the Al-Qaqaa base for about 24 hours.
"There wasn't a search," she told MSNBC, an NBC cable news channel. "The mission that the brigade had was to get to Baghdad. That was more of a pit stop there for us. And, you know, the searching, I mean certainly some of the soldiers head off on their own, looked through the bunkers just to look at the vast amount of ordnance lying around.
"But as far as we could tell, there was no move to secure the weapons, nothing to keep looters away."
On Monday night, NBC reported that its embedded crew said U.S. troops did discover significant stockpiles of bombs, but no sign of the missing HMX and RDX explosives.
The NBC report came after the U.N. nuclear agency told the Security Council on Monday about the disappearance of the 377 tons of high explosives, mostly HMX and RDX, which can be used in the kind of car bomb attacks that have targeted U.S. forces.
Iraq blamed "theft and looting ... due to lack of security."
The disappearance raised questions about why the United States didn't do more to secure the Al-Qaqaa facility 30 miles south of Baghdad.
Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said coalition forces were present in the vicinity of the site both during and after major combat operations, which ended on May 1, 2003. He said they searched the facility but found none of the explosives in question or weapons of mass destruction.
"The forces searched 32 bunkers and 87 other buildings at the facility, but found no indicators of WMD," Whitman said Monday.
That raised the possibility that the explosives had disappeared before U.S. soldiers could secure the site in the immediate invasion aftermath.
However, Iraq's Ministry of Science and Technology told the IAEA the explosives disappeared sometime after coalition forces took control of Baghdad on April 9, 2003.
The NBC team accompanied the 101st Airborne at Al-Qaqaa the following day on April 10, 2003.
Lai Ling told MSNBC that there was no talk among the 101st of securing the area after they left.
She said the roads were cut off "so it would have been very difficult, I believe, for the looters to get there."
© Copyright 2004 Associated Press