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Arms cache found by British troops

PUBLISHED: 20:00 16 April 2003 | UPDATED: 13:45 03 March 2010

BRITISH troops have uncovered the biggest arms find of the war – including weapons that can be converted to rain down deadly chemical attack.

An estimated 50,000 tonnes of shells, rockets and other explosives were unearthed at a massive arsenal near the town of Amara in central Iraq.

BRITISH troops have uncovered the biggest arms find of the war – including weapons that can be converted to rain down deadly chemical attack.

An estimated 50,000 tonnes of shells, rockets and other explosives were unearthed at a massive arsenal near the town of Amara in central Iraq.

Laser guided 'Paveway' bombs from Allied jets had torn into 21 bunkers packed full of deadly weaponry including anti-personnel mines, rockets and artillery shells.

But amazingly only two buildings appeared to be completely destroyed, leaving unexploded ordnance strewn across a huge area.

Today an RAF bomb disposal squad were carrying out the dangerous task of clearing the hoard of mines, rockets, tank shells and other munitions from a rural site which sprawls over more than four square kilometres.

A military source said: "A lot of the buildings have been hit and are unstable. Even with all the bomb disposal teams we have in theatre it could take years to make this place safe."

Troops from 3 Regiment Army Air Corps stationed at a nearby airfield were tipped off on the whereabouts of the cache from a local who approached their camp unprompted.

The Amara area has strong ties with Iran, just 40km away – and the town was among the first communities to overthrow his hated regime in a popular uprising in the first days of the war.

Soldiers from the Light Infantry were quickly called to stop the arms store - thought to be enough for an entire Iraqi division - from falling into the wrong hands.

Some 155mm and 105mm artillery shells were stacked up in crates in the wine-cellar cool of the bunkers but most were scattered across the floor in a potentially deadly tangle of mines, fuse wire and spare detonators.

Brand new versions of rocket propelled grenades – a terrorist favourite – and switches for booby traps to catch out advancing Allied troops were also found.

Even though it looks like a series of slag heaps at a reclaimed mine, the arms depot is said to be well-constructed with double-skinned walls.

Its design may have helped many of the storerooms survive the bombing onslaught.

Dozens of artillery rockets from Jordan and 25 American-made TOW anti-tank missiles were discovered in one bunker alone as the explosive specialists who have been scouring the complex.

TOW missiles, which have been used by Army Air Corps helicopters against Iraqi targets to great effect in the conflict, cost £10,000 a piece.

The total cost of the contents of the entire bunker system is estimated to run into hundreds of millions of dollars.

With the smell of cordite lingering in the air and scorch marks left by the Allied bombers from the raid in the early days of the war clearly visible, the huge ammo compound showed the extent of Saddam's desperation to stockpile an armoury from across the world – at the expense of his starving people.

The three-man team of RAF bomb disposal experts from 5131 Squadron were stunned to discover a pile of ammunition for a 200mm mortar with an estimated range of more than 10km – and is an easily transportable artillery piece reckoned capable of delivering chemical and biological weapons.

Sgt Tommy Tomizcek, 39, who is based at RAF Wittering, Cambs said: "I'm not a land service ordnance expert but I've never seen one like that before. Any of these shells could be used for chemical weapons. All you have to do is steam out the explosive and fill it with chemicals."

His assistant, Corporal 'Macca' McGarrity, 33, said: "A lot of these items could be used against coalition forces and we are still in the process of ensuring that nothing can be used against us."


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