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thedrifter
04-18-03, 06:56 PM
Apr 18, 6:30 PM EDT

Australian Forces Find Iraqi Air Force

By PAMELA SAMPSON
Associated Press Writer

DOHA, Qatar (AP) -- Australian special forces who seized an Iraqi air base have found 51 MiG fighter jets - one of the biggest enemy aircraft discoveries of the war - as well as armored vehicles, anti-weapons systems and training materials on weapons of mass destruction, officials said Friday.

Australian troops had been watching the air base west of Baghdad for about a week and had been warned it could be a storage site for weapons of mass destruction.

Lt. Col. Mark Elliott, Central Command spokesman for Australian coalition forces, said troops found instruction manuals and other training materials on chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, but that it wasn't clear whether the material instructed soldiers how to use such agents - or how to protect against them.

Bunkers capable of withstanding nuclear, chemical and biological attack also were also found at the complex. Elliott said similar bunkers have been located in other areas throughout Iraq. He added that it was too early to say whether searching the vast network of underground bunkers would turn up weapons of mass destruction.

In addition to the 51 MiG fighter jets, the troops found armored vehicles and anti-aircraft weapons systems after the base was seized Wednesday. A French-made Roland anti-aircraft missile system also was uncovered.

The Australians also found personal decontamination kits to protect against nuclear, chemical and biological warfare.

Elliott said the MiGs had escaped detection during the coalition bombing campaign because they were well hidden, in some cases buried or covered by trees.

It was not immediately known if any of the equipment discovered had been supplied to Iraq in violation of the United Nations weapons embargo.

Australian forces have not determined how many of the aircraft are in flying condition - but in any case, it would be up to the new government of Iraq to decide what to do with the jets, Elliott said.

"It's up to the people who own it - the people who rebuild Iraq," he said.

Elliott said the troops had encountered light resistance from Iraqi defenders at the air base, but that the operation was over quickly. No casualties were reported.

Some 200 Australian special forces are still at the base continuing their search, Elliott said.

Australian SAS troops, or special forces, have been operating alongside U.S. and British special forces in the western Iraqi desert since the first days of the U.S.-led war on Iraq, mainly to attack Scud missile launchers reported to be stationed in the area.

Sempers,

Roger