This investigation concerns the possible presence of chemical warfare agents, chemical weapons, and biological weapons at Iraqs An Nasiriyah Southwest Ammunition Storage Point, during and immediately after the Gulf War. The proximity of this ammunition storage point to Tallil Air Base, and the fact that many of the same units conducted similar operations at both installations, makes this investigation a continuation of the Tallil investigation, which was published by the Special Assistant for Gulf War Illnesses on November 13, 1997.
This munitions storage facility, located south of the city of An Nasiriyah and the Euphrates River, consisted of two separately fenced storage areas. The western storage area, which stored primarily army munitions, contained over 100 concrete storage bunkers, bermed storage buildings, and open storage revetments. The eastern storage area, which primarily stored air force munitions, contained a smaller number of similar storage bunkers, buildings, and open revetments. During the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War, this installation was a major Iraqi munitions depot. During the 1990-1991 time frame, the US intelligence community suspected that this ammunition storage point contained chemical or biological weapon munitions. By the beginning of the Gulf War, the intelligence community had judged certain types of Iraqi bunkers to be associated with chemical and biological weapons storage, including what analysts dubbed "S-shaped" and "12-frame" bunkers. The An Nasiriyah Southwest Ammunition Storage Point had one S-shaped bunker and four 12-frame, or refrigerated, bunkers. All five of these bunkers were struck by air-delivered ordnance and by February 3, 1991, had been either heavily damaged or destroyed. During the post-war US occupation and demolition, no chemical or biological weapons were found at this facility, nor was any agent contamination detected in the ammunition storage area. An analysis of post-war information, including information from inspections of various Iraqi chemical and biological weapons storage sites by the United Nations Special Commission on Iraq, indicates that, during Desert Storm, Iraq stored chemical and biological weapons in a variety of bunkers, and often in the open. Today, the US intelligence community believes that many of their pre-war assessments of suspected chemical and biological weapon bunkers were inaccurate, and that Iraq probably did not use the five suspect bunkers at An Nasiriyah Southwest to store chemical or biological weapons during Desert Storm.
In 1996, in accordance with United Nations Resolution 687, Iraq declared that the more than 6,000 155mm mustard-filled artillery rounds, stored in an open area 5 kilometers to the west of the Khamisiyah Ammunition Storage Point, originally had been stored in a bunker at An Nasiriyah Southwest from approximately January 15 to February 15, 1991. Iraq claims to have moved these munitions to prevent them from being destroyed by Coalition air strikes. To date, inspections, interviews, and other research by the United Nations Special Commission on Iraq support this declaration. These 155mm mustard rounds are the only chemical weapons likely to have been stored at the An Nasiriyah Southwest Ammunition Storage Point during the air campaign. Bunker 8, which, according to Iraqs declaration, held the munitions, was not one of the five bunkers suspected of chemical or biological weapons storage, and was not targeted for such or damaged by Coalition bombing. US ground forces, including explosive ordnance disposal personnel and chemical warfare agent specialists, searched the ASP destroying bunkers, buildings, and munitions before the withdrawal of US troops. There was no discovery of any chemical or biological weapons.
In March 1991, while identifying munitions in the vicinity of this ammunition storage point, explosive ordnance disposal personnel located a damaged munition with some chemical weapon characteristics. They immediately departed the area and reported the sighting to higher headquarters. A Fox nuclear, biological, and chemical reconnaissance vehicle checked the munition and the surrounding area for the presence of chemical agents and found none. Photos of this damaged munition were provided to the investigation by the photographer, the senior 60th Explosive Ordnance Disposal Detachment member present at the scene.
The 9th Chemical Detachment conducted biological weapons sampling and testing operations in-theater after the war. Some of their testing was performed at fixed sites near major Coalition installations, while other sampling missions were conducted at field sites throughout the theater. The detachment conducted eight biological weapons sampling missions at field sites in southern Iraq, including one at the An Nasiriyah Southwest Ammunition Storage Point. Four of the veterans interviewed for this investigation were Black Hawk helicopter crew members who supported this sampling mission on March 6, 1991. The Black Hawk crewchief observed artillery shells leaking unidentified materials and recalled that the sampling team members burned their chemical protective suits at the completion of the mission. This led the crewchief to believe that the crew may have been exposed to chemical agents. Interviews with three of the biological warfare agent sampling team members indicate that they tested for chemical agents with M256 kits and collected soil samples for laboratory analysis. The sampling team collected five samples: some melted liquid from an artillery shell, some liquid from a different artillery shell, and three soil samples from two different bunker sites within the ammunition storage point. These samples tested negative for biological weapon associated substances, and the team did not report any positive M256 kit detections. The 513th Military Intelligence Brigade chemical officer, who led this sampling team, stated that the aircrew had requested that they burn their chemical protective gear prior to departure to avoid any potential contamination of the helicopter.
Interviews with explosive ordnance disposal experts, chemical weapon technicians, and engineers involved in demolition operations at the An Nasiriyah Southwest Ammunition Storage Point failed to uncover evidence of the presence of either chemical or biological-filled weapons. US troops at this installation conducted demolition operations for five weeks (from March 2 to April 7, 1991) without wearing chemical weapon protective gear, yet no one reported or sought medical attention for symptoms of blister or nerve agent exposure.
Based on these interviews, the results of the United Nations Special Commission inspections of this facility, all of Iraqs Chemical Weapon Full, Final, and Complete Disclosures, and a review of theater operational reports and national intelligence reporting, it is likely that chemical weapons were present during Desert Shield prior to the US occupation, but unlikely that chemical weapons, biological weapons, or bulk chemical agents were present in this complex during the US occupation. Given the inspections by the US and United Nations and the results of the sampling conducted by US personnel, the release of chemical agents due to Coalition bombing is also unlikely.
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