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Context of 'March 24, 2002: Britain Accused of Fabricating WMD Threat to Justify Troop Deployment in Afghanistan'

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David ManningDavid Manning [Source: Britainusa.com]Britain is accused of falsely claiming the existence of an al-Qaeda biological and chemical weapons laboratory in Afghanistan in order to justify the deployment of Royal Marines to the country. A British government source says that documents found by American soldiers in a cave near the village of Shah-i-Kot indicates that Osama bin Laden had acquired chemical and biological weapons. The source also claimed that American forces had discovered the laboratory in a cave near the city of Gardez earlier this month. These claims are used to justify the deployment of 1,700 Royal Marines. But once these claims are made public, they are strongly denied by the Pentagon and State Department. A US Army official says, “I don’t know what they’re saying in London but we have received no specific intelligence on that kind of development or capability in the Shah-e-Kot valley region - I mean a chemical or biological weapons facility.” British intelligence, military, and Foreign Office sources also deny any knowledge of the claims. The only evidence related to any sort of laboratory was the discovery near Kandahar last December of an abandoned, incomplete building containing medical equipment, which had been previously reported. The source of the claims is eventually identified as an off-the-record briefing by Prime Minister Tony Blair’s senior foreign policy adviser, David Manning. The Prime Minister’s office says it sticks to “the thrust of the story.” It claims that although evidence points to al-Qaeda’s interest in acquiring such weapons, Manning had “not actually told” reporters a laboratory had been found. (Beaumont and Vulliamy 3/24/2002)

A previously unrevealed document shows that British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s claim that Iraq could strike a target with weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes of an order to deploy was based on hearsay information. The claim had already been shown to be the product of an unreliable Iraqi defector from Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress (see Late May 2003), but an internal Foreign Service document released by the Hutton inquiry undercuts the original claim even further. British and US officials had stated that the 45-minute claim came from an Iraqi officer high in Saddam Hussein’s command structure; the document shows, however, that it came from an informant who passed it on to British intelligence agency MI6. The Guardian writes, “[T]he foundation for the government’s claim was… a single anonymous uncorroborated source quoting another single anonymous uncorroborated source.” Liberal Democrat Menzies Campbell says: “This is classic hearsay. It provides an even thinner justification to go to war. If this is true, neither the prime minister nor the government have been entirely forthcoming.” (Dodd, Watt, and Taylor 8/16/2003)


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