J.  Cleaning up Al Jaber

After Task Force Grizzly cleared Al Jaber of Iraq’s forces on February 26 (Figure 10), the Marines began to prepare the base as a forward base for Marine aircraft. Task Force Grizzly occupied the base and secured the perimeter until March 3. The Task Force Grizzly commander set up his headquarters in a former air-to-air missile ammunition storage point. According to this officer, the Task Force Grizzly Marines reported no signs of chemical weapons, chemical warfare agent storage, or symptoms of chemical warfare agent exposure.[94]

Figure 10. Time line of events, February 24-March 3, 1991

Figure 10. Timeline of events, February 24-March 3, 1991

In preparing for Marine offensive air actions, several Marine explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) teams, among them the Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 16 (MALS 16) EOD team, arrived at Al Jaber early on February 26. These teams cleared hazardous munitions from the runways and collected and destroyed unexploded munitions, most of which were "area denial" mines and bomblets that Coalition aircraft dropped on the base during the air war or munitions Kuwait’s Air Force left behind before the war. The EOD team also found Iraq’s munitions.[95] Despite inspecting and testing them for chemical warfare agent presence with M-8 chemical detection paper,[96] where appropriate, the team identified no chemical munitions and subsequently destroyed many conventional munitions.[97] Although the EOD team primarily prepared the air base for Coalition operations, the commander stated they were "ammunition curious" and looked into everything they could. The MALS 16 team left the air base March 3.[98]

In addition to Task Force Grizzly and air logistics squadron EOD team, the 1st and 2d EOD Platoons of the 7th Engineer Detachment also cleaned up the base. The 1st EOD Platoon worked outside the base, while the 2d EOD Platoon cleared inside it, searching storage areas for any unusual munitions (e.g., leaking weapons or those with chemical agent filler plugs). Most of the munitions in these facilities belonged to Kuwait’s Air Force and were of various manufacture. The 2d EOD Platoon left the area on March 1 and the 1st EOD Platoon then took over the base and cleared munitions found locally through April. Neither the 1st nor the 2d EOD Platoon reported finding any chemical weapons or evidence of chemical warfare agent presence. Additionally, no one recalled finding any 155mm artillery shells—later confirmed as the primary ground system for delivering mustard-filled weapons.[99] The 7th Engineer Detachment routinely destroyed some unit files on a two-year cycle, limiting the number of records of destroyed munitions available to investigator review.[100]

K.  Analysis of the Incidents

1.  Iraq’s Chemical Weapons Capabilities

After the war, United Nations Special Commission on Iraq (UNSCOM) inspection teams found and supervised the destruction of Iraq’s chemical warfare munitions, including 12,792 mustard-filled 155mm projectiles in Iraq. UNSCOM teams found neither other mustard ground delivery munitions nor lewisite in Iraq’s inventory.[101] The inspectors found the chemical warfare agent munitions nearest to Al Jaber were more than 200 kilometers away at the Khamisiyah Ammunition Supply Point in Iraq. UNSCOM has not identified any chemical munitions moved into or located in Kuwait.[102]

Most Marines interviewed noted the absence of Iraq’s 155mm artillery near the base, although a possibility remains that some 155mm artillery were deployed near Al Jaber on the night of February 25. These artillery systems have conventional (non-chemical) as well as chemical delivery capabilities. The available Marine EOD records do not note identifying or destroying any of Iraq’s 155mm munitions in this area after the war.[103] Iraq’s aircraft did not fly ground attack sorties after January 24,[104] ruling out the possibility of an air-delivered chemical strike on February 25. Additionally, no Scud surface-to-surface missile launches at this area occurred during this period.[105]

Asked for information about Iraq’s chemical weapons deployment, representatives from the
UN Special Commission stated:

Our current [1997] understanding is that Iraq did not deploy CW [chemical weapons] into Kuwait during the Gulf War. The furthest south Iraqi CW has been found is at Khamisiyah, Iraq.[106]

The Defense Intelligence Agency supported this assertion with the following statement:

There are several reasons to believe that the Iraqis never deployed CW into Kuwait. First, there is no confirmed evidence that they did so. Neither Kuwait nor the explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) companies assisting the Kuwaitis have reported finding any CW during cleanup operations. Iraqi troops stationed in Kuwait often did not have the best CW defensive equipment. This indicates they were not prepared to fight in a contaminated environment.

The Iraqis also feared US retaliation if they used chemical weapons, and may have decided to use them only if the regime’s survival were threatened. This would explain why Iraq deployed CW to Khamisiyah and An Nasiriyah, but not to Kuwait. Finally, Iraq’s most well-trained and trusted forces, the Republican Guard - who were in Iraq, not Kuwait - were the units best equipped to deliver CW. Therefore, it is reasonable to conclude that any CW were stored behind these forces, not in front of them.[107]

2.  Fox Alert Analysis

As previously stated, the Fox crew disagrees about whether they performed a spectrum analysis or only recorded an initial alert. The tape that could answer this question no longer exists. In 1994 in response to reports of Fox detections during the Gulf War, the Army dispatched a team to read the stored memory of all Desert Storm-era MM-1s. Although it is possible to retrieve a previously run spectrum from a Fox MM-1, the Army team reported about GySgt Grass’s Fox, "No spectra or extra substances were found in USMC S/N 5604."[108] This is not surprising, because certain frequently performed maintenance or startup procedures erase the stored spectra.[109]

We know the MM-1 at least initially alerted for the possible presence of chemical warfare agent; however, this alert alone does not constitute proof of agent presence. An initial alert indicates only the possible presence of a chemical warfare agent. Since many chemical compounds have some of the same or similar ion masses as those on the MM-1 chemical warfare agent target list, the possibility exists that the MM-1 detected another substance with similar ions.[110]

According to the MM-1 manufacturer, it is possible smoke from the nearby oil well fires could have produced an initial alert for chemical warfare agents.[111] If so, performing a spectrum analysis in response to that initial alert would identify the presence of fats, oils, and wax or an unknown chemical substance (not a warfare agent) and establish the absence of chemical warfare agents. A spectrum analysis indicating mustard provides a higher probability, though not absolute, of a chemical warfare agent’s presence. Because we don’t know whether the Fox crew recorded only an initial alert or a spectrum, we cannot use the Fox alert as strong evidence of chemical warfare agent presence in this incident.

3.  Other Attempts to Identify Chemical Warfare Agents

Task Force Ripper and 1st MARDIV followed procedures requiring crews to inform NBC officers of any positive chemical warfare detection. None of the seven incidents produced reports of positive detections in the M256 tests to the Task Force Ripper or 1st MARDIV NBC officers. Moreover, in attempting to confirm the Fox alert, more than 12 test crews (one per company) testing with M256 kits around the Fox did not detect chemical warfare agents.[112]

Mustard vapor exposure can cause eye lesions, skin burns, blisters, respiratory tract difficulties, or death, depending on the dosage received.[113] The exposed Fox crew members on the roof of the vehicle exhibited no chemical warfare agent symptoms. Task Force Ripper recorded no blister agent casualties during the war.[114] Additionally, blister agents can have distinctive odors, but none of the Fox crew recalls any garlicky (mustard) or geranium-like (lewisite) smells characteristic of those chemical agents.[115]

A Mustard characteristic is low volatility; thus, liquid mustard produces little vapor hazard. Experts believe a mustard vapor detection would require an identifiable source, such as a pool of liquid mustard agent or a nearby attack with mustard weapons causing noticeable ground contamination.[116] Low volatility of persistent chemical warfare agents (e.g., mustard) results in identifiable traces lingering for days to weeks after an attack.[117] While the liquid sits, it continuously emits a nearly steady concentration of mustard vapor. For this reason, a Fox detection of mustard vapor would not occur for the reported duration of three minutes, but would continue as a persistent hazard for several days near the identifiable liquid source. The lack of an identifiable source and singularly short Fox alert conflict with this expectation.

The Fox MM-1 is not an effective chemical warfare agent vapor detector. In 1994, the Defense Science Board stated in this mode "the Fox is not a suitable warning device; very high concentrations of chemical agents would have to be present, such that unprotected troops in the vicinity would be adversely and acutely affected."[118] The Board based this finding on pre-Gulf War US Army Fox tests with nerve vapor hazards and did not test for mustard vapor.[119]

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