One prominent hypothesis used to explain the cause of illnesses of Gulf War veterans is that some of the reported symptoms are the result of exposure to chemical warfare agents. During and after the Gulf War, people reported that they had been exposed to chemical warfare agents. To investigate these incidents, and to assess the likelihood of presence of chemical warfare agents, the DoD developed a methodology for investigation and validation based on work done by the United Nations and the international community where the criteria include:

While the DoD methodology (TAB F) for investigating suspected chemical warfare agent incidents is based on these protocols, the passage of time since the Gulf War makes it difficult to obtain certain types of documentary evidence, and physical evidence was often not collected at the time of an event. Therefore, we cannot apply a rigid template to all incidents, and each investigation must be tailored to its unique circumstances. Accordingly, we designed our methodology to provide a thorough, investigative process to define the circumstances of each incident and determine what happened. Alarms alone are not considered to be certain evidence of chemical agent presence, nor may a single individual’s observation be sufficient to validate a chemical agent presence.

By following our methodology and accumulating anecdotal, documentary, and physical evidence, and by interviewing eyewitnesses and key personnel, and analyzing the results, the investigator assesses the validity of the presence of chemical warfare agents on the battlefield. Because information from various sources may be contradictory, we have developed an assessment scale (Figure 1) ranging from "Definitely" to "Definitely Not" with intermediate assessments of "Likely," "Unlikely," and "Indeterminate." This assessment is tentative, based on facts available as of the date of the report publication; each case is reassessed over time based on new information and feedback.


Figure 1. Assessment of Chemical Warfare Agent Presence

The standard for making the assessment is based on common sense: do the available facts lead a reasonable person to conclude that chemical warfare agents were or were not present? When insufficient information is available, the assessment is "Indeterminate" until more evidence can be found.


The 11th Marines was a reinforced artillery regiment, tailored for the ground campaign ("task organized") by adding elements of other artillery units. It fought with five battalions, each having three or (in one case) four batteries. Most batteries had eight guns, mainly towed 155 mm howitzers. The 11th Marines supported the entire 1st Marine Division that entered Kuwait from the south and moved to the vicinity of Kuwait City during the 100-hour ground campaign (February 24-28, 1991). The battalions and batteries of the 11th Marines deployed throughout the 1st Marine Division sector. Most directly supported a reinforced infantry regiment (for example, Task Force Ripper, Task Force Papa Bear, Task Force Grizzly, etc.). Figure 2 summarizes the Operation Desert Storm scheme of maneuver and the relative role of the 1st Marine Division.

Figure 2. 1st Marine Division and the Scheme of Maneuver

In the unit chronologies and operational logs for the Gulf War, the 11th Marines reported many alerts for chemical warfare agent. Elements of the 11th Marines initiated some of these alerts. Others alerts began elsewhere and were passed by radio to 11th Marines units.

This investigation addressed two questions: was chemical warfare agent (CWA) present during any nuclear/biological/chemical (NBC) incidents; and why did the 11th Marines record so many chemical alerts?

After studying the written documentation and interviewing witnesses, this investigation cataloged 18 potential NBC incidents associated with the 11th Marines. Of the 81 individuals/positions selected as primary witnesses, 69 were contacted in person or by telephone. For various reasons, the remainder could not be identified, located, or contacted.

Most of the 18 NBC incidents caused at least some of the 11th Marines to put on additional chemical protective garments and masks. In many cases, the units’ logs, chronologies, and messages contained scant detail. In our interviews, witnesses could recall little about some alerts. These we characterized as "Unlikely" because no evidence could be found of casualties or delivery means. Seven incidents fell in this category. For 11 incidents, substantial information was collected. In each case, investigators judged the chance of agent presence as "Unlikely." Five other potential incidents originally identified for investigation did not involve the 11th Marines, and one other concerned precautionary increase in protective posture as the regiment approached enemy lines. These were set aside as beyond the scope of this case. The first five could be candidates for investigation in a future case. For all incidents, no chemical casualties were reported.

Positive chemical agent tests, using various detection devices, triggered some of the alerts. All of the devices available to Marine units could produce false positive readings in the presence of substances other than CWA. For much of the ground campaign in Kuwait, sabotaged oil wells exposed Marines of the 1st Division to high concentrations of smoke and raw petroleum. In retrospect, it is clear that such pollution could affect detection equipment and could have caused many of the chemical alerts recorded by the 11th Marines.

The units initiating alerts frequently failed to identify themselves and their locations. Units passing along alerts from elsewhere often did not note who alerted them. This probably caused more 1st Marine Division units than necessary to mask as a precaution. As the ground campaign progressed, some commanding officers (COs), including COs of 11th Marine units, responded by limiting their response to alerts which originated with other units. Theoretically, this could have increased the risk of exposure to chemical warfare agents (CWA) in these units. Conversely, stopping to don protective gear in response to alerts from afar would have increased the risk of conventional engagement by the enemy (moving targets being more difficult to find and bring under effective fire).

Table 1 summarizes the 18 incidents and the investigators’ assessments. Each incident has been assigned a letter. The numbers and letters that follow in parentheses were earlier designations that appear in interview lead sheets and can aid in following lead sheet references. These numbered designations no longer run sequentially because over time new incidents were inserted in the sequence and investigation of a few incidents led to adjustments in timing.

Table 1. Incident Assessment Summary

Incident Date - Time Unit Alert Cause Assessment
Air War Phase
A (1) Jan 17 (10:15 PM) Various Artillery fire Unlikely
B (2) Jan 18 (5:25 AM) 1/12, 3/11 Artillery fire Unlikely
C (3) Jan 19 (9:10 PM) 1/12 Unknown Unlikely
D (5A) Jan 21 (1:30 AM) 1/12 Artillery fire Unlikely
E (11A) Jan 23 (~11:30 PM) 1/12 XM21 Unlikely
F (5) Jan 30 (8:15 PM) Various Intelligence Unlikely
Ground War Phase
G (8) Feb 24 (3:07 PM) 5/11 XM21/"White Smoke" Unlikely
H (8A) Feb 24 (6:18 PM) 5/11 "Gas" Unlikely
I (8B) Feb 25 (11:14 AM) H Btry 3/14 Unknown Unlikely
J (9) Feb 25 (5:38 PM) Various Visual/Fox Vehicle Unlikely
K (10) Feb 25 (6:00 PM) 1/12 Unknown Unlikely
L (11) Feb 25 (7:08 PM) TF Ripper Fox Vehicle Unlikely
M, N, O (12, 13, 14) Feb 26 (2:13-4:21 AM) 1/11 M256 Unlikely (3)
P (15) Feb 26 (11:54 AM) 1/11 "Gas" Unlikely
Q (17) Feb 26 (3:00 PM) TF Papa Bear "Yellow Smoke" Unlikely
R (18) Feb 27 (12:01 AM) 1/11 Unknown Unlikely

To explain why the 11th Marines recorded and participated in so many alerts, one must consider the following factors:

The 11th Marines case remains open. As relevant facts come forward, this narrative will be updated.


A. Background

1. Reason for Case Selection

During Operation Desert Storm, the 11th Marines was a reinforced artillery regiment supporting the 1st Marine Division. The regiment had a relatively high number of NBC alerts recorded in its units’ command chronologies, field message traffic, and operational logs. This observation derives from impressions by several investigators, but was not verified with any statistical precision. This narrative presents a preliminary analysis of NBC incidents involving the 11th Marines. Ultimately, it seeks to address the likelihood that the Marines and sailors of this regiment may have operated in areas where chemical warfare agent was present.

Unlike other narratives, this paper does not focus on a single location or small number of incidents. Instead, it covers the experience of a specific unit involving 18 separate incidents. These incidents extended over more than 160 miles, during a 42 day period, immediately before and during the coalition ground campaign.

Six incidents initially investigated were found not to involve the 11th Marines or involved a precautionary increase in protective posture not triggered by a perceived threat. For completeness, and because these incidents were included in 1997 testimony and summaries provided to the Presidential Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses, these incidents and the reasons they were set aside are briefly covered in Tab D.

2. Summary of 11th Marines Organization for the War

The 11th Marines, based in California during peacetime, was tailored or "task organized" for the Gulf War. This involved adding elements of other regiments, particularly the 12th Marines, which was based in the Pacific (Hawaii and Okinawa). As they entered the ground campaign, the 11th Marines had five artillery battalions:

Not all of the batteries fought with the battalion to which they were assigned in peacetime. Figure 3 diagrams the regiment as it went into the ground campaign.

Figure 3. Gulf War Organization of the 11th Marines[1]

All of these battalions, except the 5/11, had three firing batteries, each with eight towed 155mm guns (Figure 4). The 5/11 included four batteries tasked with general support for the 1st Marine Division. As such, it engaged targets wherever the Division Commander determined the need was greatest. In addition to two batteries of six towed 155 mm guns each, the 5/11 had two batteries of six self-propelled guns each -- one 155 mm (Figure 5) and one 8 inch caliber (Figure 6).[2,3] A more detailed presentation of the regiment’s components appears in TAB B.

Figure 4. Most 11th Marines Battalions had Model M198 155 mm
Towed Howitzers.

Figure 5. One 11th Marines Battery had Six Model M109 155 mm
Self-propelled Howitzers.

Figure 6. One 11th Marines Battery had Six Model M110 8-inch
Self-propelled Howitzers.

The 11th Marines also had a variety of heavy trucks to carry ammunition and tow the artillery pieces, as well as numerous command and control and utility vehicles. A typical battalion had about 600 men. The regiment had over 3,600 as they entered the ground campaign.

Except for the 5/11, the 11th Marines battalions supported particular infantry task forces built around infantry regiments and various reinforcing elements. As the ground campaign unfolded, commanders adjusted these artillery support missions, based on the tactical situation. Unlike the 2nd Marine Division, the 1st Marine Division used arbitrary code names for the infantry task forces rather than the unit designation of the core regiment. These task force names (Ripper, Papa Bear, Grizzly, etc.) appear in chronologies and logs of the time as the principal maneuver elements. Tab B lists the 1st Marine Division units and their compositions pertinent to this narrative.

To coordinate requirements, maneuver, and fire missions, the 11th Marines maintained close contact with the primary maneuver elements of the 1st Marine Division. This contact was maintained through tactical radio nets and by placing 11th Marines forward observer and liaison teams with other units’ command posts. With this dense and far-flung network, the artillery regiment had up-to-the-minute awareness of the situation across the division. The regiment was also in a position to rapidly communicate (and log) NBC alerts well beyond the unit that initiated them.[4] The commanding officer of the 11th Marines said that senior commanders always liked to visit the artillery command post. Unlike other tactical units, artillery had the "big picture" because the artillery monitored everyone’s nets and actions.[5]

3. Tactical Situation

The geographic and temporal flow of the 1st Marine Division and the 11th Marines during Operation Desert Storm provides a backdrop for the analysis of incidents to follow.

a. Leading Up to the Ground Campaign

In the weeks prior to the February 24th start of the ground campaign, several NBC alerts occurred among the elements of the 11th Marines. These generally occurred in association with reports of Iraqi SCUD long-range missile attacks on Saudi Arabia and incoming Iraqi artillery fire near the border with Kuwait. As a precaution, some units donned protective gear in case chemical warfare agents had been employed.

Figure 7 shows the general location of the 11th Marines leading up to the ground campaign.[6]

Figure 7. 1st Marine Division Pre-offensive Deployment

Beginning on the night of January 20-21, elements of the 11th Marines began conducting occasional artillery "raids" against Iraqi targets near the border.[7] On a typical raid, a battery of artillery and supporting trucks and command elements would move with stealth to the Saudi Arabia/Kuwait border area. Under cover of darkness, they would wait to receive the location of a priority Iraqi target (like a multiple rocket launcher about to fire). Often this intelligence came from unmanned aerial reconnaissance vehicles (UAVs). The artillery unit would fire on the target and rapidly depart the area to avoid any return fire.[8]

b. During the Ground Campaign

As the coalition ground offensive began on February 24th, 11th Marines battalions entered Kuwait, moved north, and began crossing the two obstacle belts in southern Kuwait. The 3/11, supporting Task Force Ripper, was the first artillery unit through the first obstacle belt.[9] Figure 8 depicts the situation.

Figure 8. 11th Marines in the Ground Campaign, Day 1

On the second day of the ground campaign, most 11th Marine elements moved through the second obstacle belt and were heading north to positions between Al Jaber Airfield and the Al Burqan oilfield. Key unit locations are shown in Figure 9. These units spent most of the day in intense pollution from burning oil wells (see Figure 10). Some elements of the regiment remained farther south between the obstacle belts.

Figure 9. 11th Marines in the Ground Campaign, Day 2


Figure 10. Burning Oil Well Head

On the third day of the offensive, all but the A Battery, 1/12, moved north and east to establish positions to the south and west of Kuwait International Airport on the outskirts of Kuwait City. On the fourth day (February 27), the 11th Marines assisted the 1st Marine Division in consolidating their positions and establishing security. General locations appear in Figure 11. Over the following days, the 11th Marines returned to port areas in Saudi Arabia and eventually to their respective home stations.

Figure 11. 11th Marines in the Ground Campaign, Day 3-4

4. 11th Marines and Chemical Protection

a. Mission Oriented Protective Posture (MOPP)

Like the rest of US forces in the Gulf War, the 11th Marines responded to NBC alerts by following the procedures of the Mission Oriented Protection Posture (MOPP) system. As the level of the perceived chemical agent threat increased, Marines first donned two-piece chemical protective garments (MOPP Level 1), then vinyl overboots (MOPP Level 2), followed by protective hood and mask (MOPP Level 3), and finally butyl rubber gloves (MOPP Level 4).[10] Additional information on MOPP appears in Tab A. (See also at this site the separate Information Paper on Mission Oriented Protection Posture (MOPP) and Chemical Protection.) From the initial breach of the Iraqi protective belts to the end of the ground campaign, most elements of the 11th Marines maintained at least MOPP Level 2 as a precaution. In response to a specific alert, affected elements of the regiment generally went to MOPP Level 4 (full protection). The log records of these alerts and the directions to increase or decrease MOPP Level represent a significant part of the contemporaneous written record of the incidents covered in this narrative.

b. Chemical Detection Equipment

Brief descriptions of the various types of chemical detection equipment mentioned in this narrative appear in the Glossary at Tab A. They include the M256A1 chemical agent detection kit, the Chemical Agent Monitor (CAM), the Remote Sensing Chemical Agent Alarm (RSCAAL), the Fox NBC reconnaissance system (vehicle) and the M8A1 Automatic Chemical Agent Alarm. The CAM, the XM21, and the Fox vehicle were all fielded with the 1st Marine Division just days or weeks before the beginning of the ground campaign.[11] Consequently, operators of this equipment were not as familiar with using these items as they were with older detectors.

It should be noted that all the chemical warfare agent detection devices available to the Marines could, at times, produce false positive readings in the presence of interferents such as oil well smoke.[12] The commanding officer of the 11th Marines noted that this was not clearly understood by most of the 11th Marines as they entered the ground campaign.[13]

5. Iraqi Chemical Weapon Capabilities During the Gulf War

At the time of the Gulf War, it was widely believed that Iraq had chemical warfare agent munitions in the Kuwaiti Theater of Operations. The US Intelligence Community found that Iraq had chemical weapons capability, and had used chemical weapons against its own citizens, as well as against Iran.[14]

Following the war, the United Nations Special Commission on Iraq (UNSCOM), via its chemical inspections program, identified Iraqi chemical weapons and their delivery means. Table 2 summarizes Iraqi CWA delivery capability during the Gulf War. Discussion of CWA and their toxic and other effects appears in TAB A.

When assessing the 11th Marines’ NBC incidents, investigators considered the post-war data on Iraq’s ability to deliver particular types of agents.

UNSCOM and CIA experts have testified recently[15] that they believed Iraq did not deploy chemical weapons or agents out of Iraq and into Kuwait before or during the war. Along with the neutralization of the Iraqi Air Force, this would have greatly limited Iraqi CWA delivery capability. However, investigators did not assume Iraq lacked forward-deployed chemical capability in investigating and analyzing the 11th Marines case.

Table 2. Iraqi Chemical Weapon Capabilities at the time of the Gulf War[16]

Chemical Warfare Agent Means of Delivery Comments
Mustard 155mm artillery shells  
Sarin 122mm rockets (launched from Multiple Rocket Launchers) & SCUD Missiles (Al Hussein variant) Filled with either GB or a GB/GF mixture
Mustard or Nerve Aerial bombs  
CS (Riot Control) 120 mm mortar bombs CS is not considered a chemical warfare agent.

6. Interview Approach

Investigators took several factors into consideration in applying the previously described methodology. In selecting key witnesses to interview, investigators:

Tab C contains an organizational diagram annotated with the witnesses’ positions. In a few cases, despite repeated efforts, investigators could not locate or contact individuals key to particular incidents.

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