WASHINGTON – About 2,000 more experts are being sent to Iraq to help look for banned weapons (search) as well as regime leaders, terrorists and more.
The team is more than triple the size of the force now searching for weapons and larger than was previously described. It will be headed by a two-star general in defense intelligence, the Pentagon (search) said Wednesday.
The Defense Department also confirmed it is investigating what officials said may be the most promising discovery so far -- a trailer truck they say could turn out to be the first mobile biological lab recovered since the start of the war to disarm the government of Saddam Hussein (search).
The Bush administration alleged that Iraq had chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs and said the main reason for the war was to destroy them. Despite weeks of searches at more than 100 sites, officials have reported finding nothing conclusive so far.
Although Pentagon officials suggested some Iraqi units were armed with chemical weapons just days before the war, none were found when those units were overrun. Officials said again Wednesday at a Pentagon news conference that finding the "smoking gun" will take time.
Asked if prewar intelligence was flawed, Defense Intelligence Agency Director Vice Adm. Lowell Jacoby said it was far too soon to tell.
"This is piecing together a major jigsaw puzzle, and we are only just beginning ... to work the puzzle," Lowell said.
Maj. Gen. Keith Dayton of DIA will head the new group being sent to Iraq, called the Iraq Survey Group.
Consisting of some 1,300 military and civilian experts in computers, intelligence, weapons, demolition and other matters, the group also will have former U.N. weapons inspectors and 800 support personnel. They are joining 600 military and civilian experts from the armed forces, FBI, CIA, Defense Threat Reduction Agency and elsewhere who are already hunting for chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs.
Only half of the new group will devote itself to weapons. The others will be looking for and analyzing information on regime leaders, terrorists, war crimes, the former Iraqi intelligence service, atrocities and prisoners of war, Defense Undersecretary Stephen Cambone said.
Officials had previously said about 1,000 more were going to search for weapons, but never talked about the extra people for the other searches.
The Pentagon has said the United States may prosecute some figures for war crimes, and that soldiers are gathering information that can be used for the Iraqis to prosecute people who committed atrocities over the decades of Saddam's rule.
Cambone said the prewar lists of important sites to visit was about 1,000, including some 600 that related to weapons.
An additional 400 sites have been identified through Iraqi tips, documents and other leads since the war started.
Still, the searchers in Iraq have only explored 110 sites so far, Cambone said, 70 from the prewar list and 40 that emerged with new intelligence since the major fighting ended.
Officials said the suspected biological lab was being tested by American forces in Iraq. The trailer matches the description of such laboratories given by various sources, including a defector who says he helped operate one.
Cambone said initial tests have been done on the trailer, which was taken into custody April 19 at a Kurdish checkpoint in northern Iraq. No biological agents have been found so far, but officials believe the trailer was washed with a caustic chemical to wipe away evidence. They said they may need to dismantle it to get to hard-to-reach surfaces.
The trailer, painted in a military color scheme, was found on a transporter normally used for tanks. It contains a fermenter and a system to capture exhaust gases, which an Iraqi defector said were parts of Iraq's mobile labs, Cambone said.
"While some of the equipment on the trailer could have been used for purposes other than biological weapons agent production, U.S. and U.K. technical experts have concluded that the unit does not appear to perform any function beyond what the defector said it was for, which is the production of biological agents," Cambone said.