A. Chemical Warfare Agent Detection

During the Gulf War, two primary methodologies existed for detecting chemical weapons and chemical warfare agents. One was visual—munitions markings, like painted bands or symbols, or physical characteristics like thin, double-walled casings; burster tubes; welded construction; fill plugs; etc. However, these visual characteristics are not always reliable. Chemical detectors were the second available method. Unfortunately, a properly designed, manufactured, and filled chemical munition will often not emit enough chemical warfare agent vapor to be reliably detected by current M256 kits or CAMs. This presented explosive ordnance disposal technicians with the very impractical and dangerous task of having to disassemble an unknown munition in order to positively identify if it is filled with a hazardous agent. The technology now exists to reliably detect munitions contents by external sensors and should be fielded as soon as possible.

B. Policies and Procedures for Munition Destruction

Under normal non-combat conditions, explosive ordnance disposal technicians will carefully identify each munition to be destroyed, and implement a plan that, with a high degree of safety and reliability, would render each munition inert. Due to the large quantities of munitions captured during Desert Storm, and the limited amount of time, explosives, and EOD technicians available, this was not done. Entire bunkers full of munitions were rigged for destruction without conducting a complete item-by-item inventory, and much of the demolition rigging was done by non-trained personnel—primarily combat engineers. Due to limited demolition materials, many of the munitions in these bunkers were either ejected intact or cooked off over an extended period of time. These ejections and cook offs placed US personnel at increased risk. Policies or directives should be developed that clearly communicate these risks to commanders, and provide explicit guidance on when and how non-EOD personnel will be used to destroy large quantities of captured munitions.

C. Mission Coordination and Communications

Operational units responsible for demolition, including explosive ordnance disposal and combat engineers, were not properly provided information necessary for the safe conduct of their mission. The US intelligence community had information on potential chemical and biological weapon storage sites that was not passed to the operators who occupied and destroyed them. Neither EOD nor the combat engineers who assisted them were briefed on the analytical association of S-shaped or 12-frame bunkers with chemical or biological weapons. Had this association been passed down to the operational level, these specific bunkers, and a significant area around them, would have certainly received additional attention from chemical and EOD specialists. Additionally, a special biological weapons sampling mission was flown to this installation without coordination with the operators who occupied it and were conducting demolition operations there, endangering everyone on this mission. The US Army aviation community carefully coordinates and de-conflicts operations in artillery firing zones; this same level of planning and coordination should be developed when EOD conducts demolition operations.

D. Doctrine, Tactics, Techniques, Procedures, and Training

The biological warfare agent sampling mission was conducted on short notice with very little coordination among the aircrew and the sampling team, and without following existing doctrine. The aircrew was not completely briefed on the nature of the mission, the potential hazards (like the demolition), and the safety precautions necessary to prevent possible chemical or biological warfare agent contamination. The sampling crew did not insure that all team members knew the mission objective, their specific roles, and the tasks assigned to the other members. The lack of internal communications created a situation where one of the team members did not know he was inspecting a suspected biological weapons storage site until after the mission and an aircrew member thought the burning of MOPP gear was an unusual event rather than a prudent, conservative, safety precaution. The team members’ ignorance regarding the big picture led to erroneous speculation and unnecessary concern. A thorough pre-mission brief with both the helicopter crew and the sampling teams in future chemical or biological sampling surveys would further enhance mission safety and effectiveness, and reduce misunderstandings.

E. Feedback

The team members did not understand the sample testing procedures or the notification process for positive results (and lack of notification for negative results). Communication between the unit taking the samples and the laboratory where the samples are analyzed is critical. The chemical officer of the 513th Military Intelligence Brigade received no results of the laboratory tests conducted in the United States. There are many reasons that could have prevented this feedback, but the lack of a procedure to communicate both positive and negative test results for chemical warfare agent caused unnecessary concerns and post-war speculation. Implementation of a simple procedure could increase the opportunity for feedback.

This is a final report. However, if you believe you have information which may change this case narrative, please contact my office by calling 1-800-497-6261.

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