F. The Search for Chemical Weapons[19]

A March 23, 1991, message from the 82nd Airborne Division chemical officer to the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment chemical officer summarized the search for chemical weapons at Tallil Air Base, An Nasiriyah SW ASP, and Khamisiyah:

When the 82nd Abn Div [Airborne Division] initially occupied the sector, Fox vehicles and unit   reconnaissance teams checked for evidence of contamination or chemical weapons. No           contamination was found. Riot control agent CS was found in the Tall al Lahm [Khamisiyah] ASP (PV3706).[20] White phosphorus rounds were also found. Artillery rounds with fill plugs and central bursters were found. They were marked with a yellow band. They were empty. Other rounds in the area were marked similarly. Fox reconnaissance vehicles determined they contained TNT.[21]

Two interviews with the 82nd Airborne Division chemical officer confirmed his message and provided the following additional information. He and all subordinate chemical personnel were well aware of the possibility of chemical munitions in-theater. If personnel suspected bunkers or ammunition storage sites contained chemical munitions, they were instructed to use the chemical agent monitor (CAM). Although the 82nd Airborne Division chemical officer could not confirm CAMs tested every searched bunker or suspect munition, he believed CAMs were widely available and routinely used.[22]

The division chemical officer also recalled when the 307th Engineers attempted to destroy the ASP’s western portion, they used an insufficient amount of explosives. In one bunker, rather than destroying the munitions, the explosion started a fire that began to detonate munitions. Based on the signature[23] of the weapons (their whistling in flight and their impact craters), the division chemical officer believed most were 122mm artillery rockets. Some of the rockets exploded near the command post. Since the wind was blowing towards this area, he deployed Fox vehicles and chemical detection equipment on a nearby ridge to monitor smoke coming over the command post. No chemical detections were made at this time or when the ASP was searched. The division chemical officer also stated none of the assigned personnel reported symptoms of chemical exposure, nor did he hear of such reports.[24]

Interviews with an 82nd Airborne Division brigade chemical officer who supervised ASP chemical weapons search activities[25] and several Fox vehicle crew members who surveyed this area confirmed they found no chemical warfare agent.[26] We also interviewed the 307th Engineer Battalion intelligence officer, who was in the Tallil Air Base area for about a week and witnessed numerous demolition activities at the ammunition storage point. He did not receive any reports of chemical warfare agent in the vicinity and never took his mission oriented protective posture (MOPP)[27] gear out of the bag.[28]

Because the Fox vehicle was not designed to survey bunkers, the chemical warfare agent search teams used hand-held testing systems—including M256 kits[29] and CAMs—to check the bunker interiors. During an interview, a Fox vehicle crew member commented specifically on these bunker searches. His vehicle was in the Tallil and An Nasiriyah ASP area for about two weeks; the areas they searched included the airfield, hardened aircraft shelters, and munitions bunkers. His search team did most of its sampling near the munitions bunkers. Since the Fox was too large to enter them, the team used hand-held CAMs. Most of the munitions he scanned were large tank or artillery shells. There were no positive readings during this survey.[30]

A February 28, 1991, 18th Airborne Corps message described Iraq’s chemical munitions marking system based on information received from an enemy prisoner of war and directed using these colored markings to assist in identifying chemical munitions.[31] However, these marking schemes were not reliable indicators of chemical weapons presence.[32] A 1703rd EOD Detachment member specifically mentioned finding gray munitions with red bands, but found no chemical munitions.[33] The senior 60th EOD Detachment technician described other ways to determine more accurately chemical warfare agent presence (munitions’ filler plugs, double-walled construction, or thin skin), and noted the Detachment took for granted chemical weapons might be unmarked or marked inconsistently.[34] However, even though this individual, and perhaps other EOD personnel understood marking schemes were unreliable indicators of chemical munitions, other, non-EOD soldiers we interviewed who had been involved in the An Nasiriyah searches and demolition operations did not say they mistrusted the munitions markings system; they used them to explain why they believed they had identified chemical munitions. Several interviewees reported they encountered possible chemical weapons at An Nasiriyah because of the munitions’ colored markings (e.g., yellow or red bands). One engineer reported he destroyed six gray bombs with red and yellow stripes painted on them.[35] Another engineer noted that 5 to 10 percent of the artillery shells he observed in bunkers had white or yellow markings on the projectile nose.[36]

Another example of chemical munitions’ markings unreliability occurred on March 7, 1991. While identifying, inventorying, and destroying munitions near the ASP (Figure 6), a senior member of the 60th EOD Detachment found a munition with several of a chemical weapon’s possible physical characteristics, including thin, double-walled construction, a burster tube, and two yellow bands on the nose (Figures 7A and 7B). He immediately departed the area and informed higher headquarters of the sighting.[37] Headquarters dispatched two Fox reconnaissance vehicles to the site and they surveyed the area; a member of the 60th EOD Detachment stated they found only high explosive (HE) residue,[38] not chemical warfare agents.[39,40]

Figure 6. An Nasiriyah Southwest Ammunition Storage Point

Figure 7A. Side view of suspected chemical weapon munition found March 7, 1991


Figure 7B. Back view of suspected chemical weapon munition[41]

While removing equipment and weapons from a warehouse near the An Nasiriyah SW ASP, one soldier of the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment related he became very nauseated and dizzy after exposure to a white powder in a can. The veteran related that he could not remember the location of the warehouse.  He indicated the inhaled substance caused immediate vomiting, but the nausea lasted only one to three hours and was not severe. He did not report this incident or seek medical attention and he did not experience lasting effects from this incident.[42] The unidentified powder could have been one of several different compounds, including a riot control agent. Iraq had a variety of riot control agents in its arsenal. Most riot control agents, or tear gases, irritate the eyes and cause breathing difficulties and nausea. Some agents, like O-chlorobenzylidene malononitrile (CS), are white crystalline solids similar in appearance to the reported white powder in a can.[43] Nerve agent exposures, on the other hand, cause more severe, unusual reactions, such as miosis (pinpointed pupils and dimmed vision), drooling, excessive sweating, vomiting, cramps, twitching, headache, confusion, drowsiness, breathing difficulties, convulsions, coma, and ultimately death.[44] Riot control agent symptoms disappear shortly after an exposure, and very rarely do exposed personnel require medical treatment.[45] The injured person reported his symptoms lasted for several hours and did not recur.[46] The health effects and duration of symptoms the exposed soldier experienced are consistent with the symptoms expected from a riot control agent exposure, but are inconsistent with the symptoms expected from any of the chemical warfare agents the intelligence community believed to have been in Iraq’s inventory.

G. The Search for Biological Weapons[47]

During Desert Storm, the US ability to detect biological weapons in the field was extremely limited and consisted of only experimental sampling systems and laboratory testing.[48] This was in stark contrast to the multiple, standard-issue chemical warfare agent detection systems (e.g., CAMs and M256 kits) the US military deployed by the thousands to the Gulf down to the lowest elements within most field units. The 9th Chemical Detachment of the 9th Infantry Division, Fort Lewis, Washington, performed the biological warfare agent field testing (versus laboratory testing) for the entire theater. An overview of the 9th’s equipment, manning, and mission follows:

The 9th Chemical Detachment provided point biological and stand-off chemical detection capabilities using the XM2 biological sampler and the XM21 chemical detector. The detachment was attached to the Foreign Material Intelligence Battalion (FMIB) for operations, rations, administrative[sic], training, UCMJ [Uniform Code of Military Justice], personnel, and logistical support. The Detachment was attached to FMIB due to similar missions to collect chemical and biological samples. FMIB had already established the procedures for the evacuation of samples from the KTO [Kuwait theater of operations] to CONUS [Continental United States] laboratories for detailed analysis. The Detachment consisted of an eight man headquarters section, seven biological detection teams and five chemical/biological detection teams .…

Each Biological detection team consisted of a team chief and two biological detection NCOs. Three of the teams had XM2 biological detectors and the remaining four teams had the PM-10 commercial samplers. The PM-10s were deployed to the units covering Riyadh and Dhahran due to its [sic] awkward size and shape.

The five chemical/biological detection teams consisted of team chief and two chemical/biological detection NCOs. Although biological detection was the primary mission, both systems were deployed simultaneously providing dual mission coverage.[49]

This unit deployed to Saudi Arabia in January 1991. On February 1, 1991, the unit received its equipment and logistics support, and then dispatched sampling teams to several locations to test for potential threats. After, the war, several teams deployed to Kuwait City, Kuwait, and then traveled into southern Iraq, where they collected eight biological samples. A UH-60/Black Hawk helicopter transported one team to the An Nasiriyah SW ASP to collect biological weapons samples. The team found no biological warfare agents or munitions.[50]

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