A.  Background

In 1993, a Marine, whose Desert Storm mission included providing security to a XM93 Fox Nuclear Biological and Chemical Reconnaissance Vehicle (Fox), believed an exposure to chemical warfare agents during the Gulf War caused his disease.[2] In response to this Marine, the Marine Corps asked several Marine nuclear, biological and chemical (NBC) weapons defense specialists, including Gunnery Sergeant (GySgt) George Grass to make statements about any chemical warfare agent exposures they suspected during the war. During the Gulf War, GySgt Grass commanded a Fox vehicle, the most sophisticated liquid chemical warfare agent detector available to US forces. In a written statement, GySgt Grass discussed a specific Fox alert for chemical warfare agents at Al Jaber air base, located at 28� 56’N, 47� 47’E in Kuwait (Figure 2). In 1993 and 1994, several Marines who testified before Congressional committees also mentioned GySgt Grass’s Fox alert at Al Jaber.[3] In May 1996 and May 1997, GySgt Grass testified before the Presidential Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses about several suspected Gulf War chemical warfare agent incidents about which he personally knew, including the Fox alert at Al Jaber.[4,5] GySgt Grass also testified in December 1996 before the Government Reform and Oversight Subcommittee of the House of Representatives about these incidents.[6] The June 9, 1997, MITRE Corporation report, "Iraqi Chemical Warfare: Analysis of Information Available to DoD," and at least one other book also discuss this Fox alert.[7,8]

Figure 2. Al Jaber Air Base, Kuwait thumbnail

Figure 2. Al Jaber Air Base, Kuwait

In response to these statements and testimony, we initiated our investigation in 1996. While probing the Fox alert, we identified several other chemical warfare agent alerts near Al Jaber air base. Due to their proximity in distance and time to the Fox alert, we incorporated these alerts in our investigation. Our interim narrative, published in 1997, documented seven alerts altogether. The General Accounting Office and the Presidential Special Oversight Board (PSOB) reviewed this narrative and recommended specific improvements to it. The PSOB further recommended publishing this narrative as final after incorporating changes for their comments.

Because of his high public visibility in discussing this case, we have named GySgt Grass, but we identify all other personnel by Gulf War position to protect their privacy.

B.  Al Jaber Before Desert Storm (pre January 16, 1991)

Before Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990, Al Jaber was a Kuwaiti military air base. After the invasion, US intelligence reported that the airfield might contain chemical munitions because Iraq’s ground forces had deployed 30 155mm howitzers near Al Jaber and used the airbase’s hardened hangarettes for munitions storage.[9] A Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) paper published before the war notes, "Iraq regards its 155mm artillery as the weapon of choice for ground force delivery of CW [chemical weapons]."[10] United Nations (UN) inspectors’ post-war analysis identified Iraq’s 155mm artillery as the sole ground force delivery system for mustard chemical warfare agent.[11] Before the war, Iraq’s artillery assets consisted of approximately 3600 Soviet Bloc artillery weapons and other North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) artillery weapons (105mm and 155mm). Of these, the DIA identified only 452 as 155mm artillery pieces.[12]

C.  Coalition Planning and Actions

During the air war (January 17 through February 23, 1991) Coalition aircraft struck Al Jaber several times, attacking both the air base and suspected chemical munitions storage facilities west of the airfield.[13] Aircraft also dropped anti-personnel mines to impede Iraq’s forces’ movements in and around the base.

The dense concentration of Iraq’s long-range artillery near Al Jaber caused Coalition ground-war planners to make Al Jaber’s early capture a primary goal. The 1st Marine Division (1st MARDIV) commander considered Iraq’s artillery emplaced around the base the "nerve center of Iraqi defenses."[14] Consequently, Al Jaber became the Marine Expeditionary Force’s Objective Alpha - a goal for 1st MARDIV elements once they crossed the minefields on the first day of the ground war. The Marines intended to neutralize Iraq’s artillery threat by overrunning Al Jaber and then using the captured base as a forward air base for Marine Corps aircraft.[15]

D.  1st Marine Division’s Desert Storm Organization

Most of the units discussed in this narrative were part of the 1st MARDIV or under its operational control (Figure 3). For the assault of Kuwait, the 1st MARDIV organized into task forces, two of which, Task Forces Ripper and Grizzly, played roles in capturing Al Jaber air base. Task Force Ripper was comprised of the 7th Marine Regiment’s headquarters; the 3d Tank Battalion; the 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment (the 1/7); and the 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment (the 1/5). Task Force Ripper augmented these maneuver battalions with forces from the 1st Combat Engineer Battalion (1st CEB), the 3d Assault Amphibian Battalion (3d AAB), and the 3d Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment (the 3/11), which provided artillery support.[16] The 1st MARDIV also gave Task Force Ripper one of its four Fox vehicles.[17]

E.  Initial Marine Ground Operations (February 24)

On February 24, 1991, the first day of the ground war, Iraq’s forces set fire to the Al Burqan oil fields near Al Jaber. These fires’ heavy black smoke sharply reduced visibility during combat operations to secure the base. After crossing a second minefield and encountering enemy ground force resistance, artillery, and oil smoke, Task Force Ripper surrounded the base by 6:00 PM. Iraq’s forces, however, still held the base. At 9:00 PM Marine commanders postponed operations to take the base

Figure 3. I Marine Expeditionary Force table of organization thumbnail

Figure 3. I Marine Expeditionary Force table of organization

until the next day, February 25.[18] During the afternoon and evening of February 24, many of Iraq’s soldiers surrendered to Task Force Ripper units. These prisoners revealed that only conventional munitions—not chemical warfare rounds—were stored in Al Jaber’s bunkers.[19]

F.  Five Chemical Alerts (Night of February 24-25)

On the night of February 24, Marines surrounding Al Jaber prepared for further operations knowing Iraq had the capability to use chemical munitions.[20] Our interviews indicate several US Marine and Army units around Al Jaber donned chemical protective equipment to Mission Oriented Protective Posture level 4 (MOPP-4)[21] five times between 8:00 PM on February 24 and 3:00 AM on February 25 in response to verbal alerts about smoke thought to be chemical warfare agents.[22] However, no records of these alerts appear in any unit chronologies or logs. None of those interviewed remembered broadcasts of any chemical warfare agent alerts over any radio networks, although some did recall telephoned alerts. Some of those interviewed about these events remembered hearing by word of mouth of a "gas" alert.[23]

A 1st MARDIV NBC non-commissioned officer (NCO) said atmospheric conditions on February 24 caused outgoing artillery smoke to hug the ground rather than dissipate. The 1st MARDIV Headquarters Forward Command Post (CP), sometimes called the Bravo CP, was southeast[24] of the air base (Figure 4); the wind was from the south to the north. According to the NBC NCO, on several occasions Marines mistook this outgoing artillery smoke from a 3/11 battery for Iraq’s chemical warfare agent attacks and erroneously reported an attack to the units around Al Jaber.[25] The Marines followed normal protective procedures by increasing their MOPP level while attempting to confirm the chemical warfare agent alert. The NBC NCO at the Bravo CP performed several tests with his M256A1 chemical warfare agent detector kits after each alert.[26] Each of the five sets of M256 tests produced negative results—indicating no chemical warefare agent presence. Following standard procedure, a few Marines unmasked and observed each other for several minutes to see if they experienced any nerve agent exposure symptoms. When they did not exhibit symptoms of nerve agent, the Marines removed their gas masks and reduced their protective posture.[27]

Figure 4. Units around Al Jaber, night of February 24, 1991 thumbnail

Figure 4. Units around Al Jaber, night of February 24, 1991

No 1st MARDIV Fox vehicle reported a chemical warfare agent alert related to this incident, although some interviewees believed a Fox vehicle was present during these alerts.[28] The four Fox vehicles were deployed one each to Task Forces Ripper and Papa Bear and two with the 1st MARDIV mobile command post. The Task Force Ripper Fox was nearest the air base, although several miles from it, but its commander reported no alerts that night.[29]

Task Force Grizzly captured more than 1000 of Iraq’s soldiers during this first day of the ground war and held them just outside Al Jaber. Few of these prisoners had chemical protective equipment; witnesses said none of the prisoners had chemical warfare agent exposure symptoms after the five alerts. Several Marines reported sleeping through some of the alerts without donning their masks and reported no chemical warfare agent symptoms.[30]

G.  Continued Attempts to Capture Al Jaber (February 25)

The 1st MARDIV assigned Task Force Grizzly to clear the enemy from the base on February 25. Figure 5 shows a timeline of events on this date. The attack began at 4:02 PM; by the late evening, Task Force Grizzly occupied much of the base, although resistance continued into the evening, particularly from long-range artillery north of the base. This artillery battle around Al Jaber between the Marines and Iraq’s III Corps produced more Coalition casualties (none from chemical warfare agents) than any other single engagement of the war.[31] At one point, the Task Force Grizzly commander requested permission to use riot control agents (tear gas) to subdue the remaining defenders on the base, but higher authorities, concerned that Iraq’s soldiers might retaliate with chemical warfare agents, denied this request.[32]

As the fighting continued, prisoners told the Task Force Ripper leadership Iraq’s counterattack would come "out of the flames."[33] The Task Force Ripper commander thought this meant Iraq would counterattack through the smoke from the burning oil fields and ordered a defensive mobile screening force north of the air base in anticipation of the counterattack. The attack never developed.[34]

H.  The 6:00 PM Alert (February 25)

At 6:00 PM, Task Force Ripper alerted to a possible chemical warfare agent attack and went to MOPP-4 (Figure 6). In the command chronology the Task Force Ripper NBC officer carefully recorded "went to MOPP-4" and not "gas attack," as he had no confirmation of a chemical warfare attack.[35] It is possible the initial radio announcements declared a gas attack

Figure 5. Timeline of events for February 24-26, 1991 thumbnail

Figure 5. Timeline of events for February 24-26, 1991

rather than a change in prescribed protective measures.[36] The 1st Combat Engineers Battalion reported the same alert as follows:

1800 - Flash! Flash! Gas! Gas! 3d Tk Bn log train reports they have been gassed. TF Ripper goes to MOPP 4.
1830 - All clear[37]

The Task Force Ripper NBC officer said that in the ground conflict, the radio networks reported many suspected chemical warfare agent attacks as confirmed. These reports, such as the one above, made some 1st Marine Division Marines believe confirmed chemical warfare agent attacks had occurred.

We investigated the 6:00 PM alert as one of seven Al Jaber events, but the location and source of this alert currently are unclear. Although the 1st Combat Engineer Battalion log entry quoted above attributes the alert to the 3d Tank Battalion, the 3d Tank Battalion’s logs do not mention the incident.[38] Interviews of the 3d Tank Battalion’s commander, resupply officer, and NBC officer also failed to shed any light on the report. On the contrary, the 3d Tank Battalion NBC officer emphatically stated that attributing this report to 3d Tank Battalion was incorrect.[39] The Task Force Ripper NBC officer remembers the alert coming from the resupply convoy in the rear,[40] approximately 20 miles behind the main body of the task force at Al Jaber. We have been unable to locate anyone who recalls any other specifics of the location of this alert.[41]

Figure 6. "'Ripper' in MOPP-4" by Lt.Col. H. A. Chenwoeth, USMCR thumbnail

Figure 6. "'Ripper' in MOPP-4" by Lt.Col. H. A. Chenwoeth, USMCR

Regardless of the source of this alert, Task Force Ripper initiated their standard operating procedures after a suspected chemical warfare incident: all the task force’s subordinate units went to MOPP-4 and NBC personnel began testing for chemical warfare agents. The Task Force Ripper NBC officer recalled positioning several Marines in a line several hundred yards upwind of the Task Force command post, where two or three Marines used M256 kits to test the air for chemical warfare agents. All M256 tests, which took 23 minutes to perform,[42] resulted in negative results—no agents detected. At that point (6:30 PM), Task Force Ripper returned to MOPP-2[43]. See Figure 7 for a timeline of events. The "11th Marines" Case Narrative, Event K, discusses additional details of this alert.[44]

Figure 7. Timeline of events for Fox alert thumbnail

Figure 7. Timeline of events for Fox alert

| First Page | Prev Page | Next Page |