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U.S. claims on Iraqi drones `disputed'



A prototype of a drone in a military compound at the Ibn Firnas State Company in Al Taji, north of Baghdad, in this March 12, 2003 file photo.

WASHINGTON AUG. 25. Huddled over a fleet of abandoned Iraqi drones, U.S. weapons experts in Baghdad came to one conclusion: Despite the Bush administration's public assertions, these Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) weren't designed to dispense biological or chemical weapons.

The evidence gathered this summer matched the dissenting views of Air Force intelligence analysts who argued in a national intelligence assessment of Iraq before the war that the remotely piloted planes were unarmed reconnaissance drones.

In building its case for war, senior Bush administration officials had said Iraq's drones were intended to deliver unconventional weapons. The Secretary of State, Colin Powell, even raised the alarming prospect that the pilotless aircraft could sneak into the United States to carry out poisonous attacks on American cities.

The administration based its view on a Central Intelligence Agency finding that Iraq had renewed development of sophisticated UAVs capable of such attacks. The Pentagon's Defence Intelligence Agency also supported this conclusion.

While the hunt for suspected weapons of mass destruction — and the means to deliver them — continues, intelligence and defence officials said the CIA and DIA stand by their pre-war assertions about Iraqi drone capabilities, some of which Gen. Powell highlighted in his Feb. 5 presentation to the U.N. Security Council.

But the Air Force, which controls most of the American military's UAV fleet, didn't agree with that assessment from the beginning. And analysts at the Pentagon's Missile Defence Agency said the Air Force view was widely accepted within their ranks as well.

Instead, these analysts believe the drones posed no threat to Iraq's neighbours or the United States, officials in Washington and scientists involved in the weapons hunt in Iraq said. The official Air Force intelligence dissent is noted in the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq's weapons programmes, parts of which were declassified last month as the Bush administration tried to defend its case for war.

``We didn't see there was a very large chance they (UAVs) would be used to attack the continental United States,'' Bob Boyd, director of the Air Force Intelligence Analysis Agency, said. ``We didn't see them as a big threat to the homeland.''

He also said there was little evidence to associate Iraq's UAVs with the country's suspected biological weapons programme. Facilities weren't in the same location and the programmes didn't use the same people.

Instead, the Air Force believed Iraq's UAV programmes were for reconnaissance, as are most American UAVs. Intelligence on the drones suggested they were not large enough to carry much more than a camera and a video recorder, Mr. Boyd said.

Post-war evidence uncovered in July in Iraq supports those assessments, according to two U.S. Government scientists assigned to the weapons hunt.

— AP

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