Date of Report: August 5, 1996
Of the many countries representing the coalition during the Persian Gulf War, troops from two countries -- the former Czechoslovakia and France -- reported chemical agent detections during Operation DESERT STORM. After sorting through many sources and much conflicting information, the Persian Gulf Veterans' Illness Investigation Team (PGVIIT) has compiled a list of seven possible coalition (non-U.S.) chemical detections. The degree of credibility attached to each of these detections varies considerably based on the official position of the countries involved, the equipment used for the detections and corroboration from other sources. It should be noted that 1) all the below-listed detections are confined to within an approximately 35 mile radius near Hafir al Batin and King Khalid Military City, and 2) all the detections occurred within the first week of the air war campaign of Operation DESERT STORM.
DETECTION EQUIPMENT/CHEMICAL ALARMS
The chemical detection equipment used by the Czechs in the Gulf included the Russian-made GSP-11 chemical agent detector/alarm which provides continuous monitoring capability, the portable CHP-71, a chemical analyzer used as back-up for the GSP-11, and a portable laboratory which uses a paper detection method as well as other wet chemical analysis. This equipment has been evaluated and assessed to be sensitive and reliable. To date, the detection equipment used by the French has not been determined. Therefore an assessment of its accuracy and reliability cannot be made.
COALITION DETECTION LIST
The following list of seven possible detections has been compiled from a number of sources, including Senate reports, the Report of the Defense Science Board Task Force on Persian Gulf War Health Effects, various unit logs and other open sources.
2. 1/19/91 The same day, French chemical troops reported detecting "infinitesimal amounts of nerve and blister agent" approximately 30 kilometers from KKMC (exact location unknown). We have found no other evidence to substantiate this detection.
3. 1/21/91 Central Command Nuclear Biological and Chemical (NBC) logs indicate a Czech nerve agent detection at an undetermined location in the French sector. The French requested U.S. confirmation. U.S. chemical detection teams were unable to confirm the presence of any chemical agents. Neither the French nor the Czech Defense Ministries have officially acknowledged this detection. Coupled with the lack of confirmation, this reported detection remains questionable.
4. 1/20 or 1/21//91 A Czechoslovak unit reported low-level mustard vapor near the KKMC Engineer School. We have no other evidence to substantiate this detection. The Czech Republic acknowledges only those detections on 19 and 24 January.
5. 1/21/91 France reported "trace quantities of nerve and blister agent" in the KKMC area. At the request of the French unit, a nearby Czech unit reportedly confirmed the presence of non-toxic quantities of agent. This confirmation, however, has not been acknowledged by the Czechs.
6. 1/24/91 A Saudi liaison officer reportedly summoned one of the Czech chemical units to an area 10 km north of KKMC and 50 km southwest of Hafir al Batin. There, the Czech team found a patch of sand, approximately 1 square meter, which was contaminated with a substance identified as mustard. The detection was confirmed by the Czechs using a portable laboratory. The Czech government has acknowledged this detection, but does not speculate as to how the agent got there.
7. 1/24 or 1/25/91 France reported to Senator Shelby's delegation that they detected nerve and mustard agent at a logistics facility approximately 27 kilometers south of KKMC. They also told the delegation that a Czech unit confirmed the presence of infinitesimal quantities of nerve and mustard agent, and decontaminated the area. The Czechs did not mention any confirmations of French detections to the Shelby delegation.
*KKMC = King Khalid Military City.
MAP OF DETECTION AREA
(Note: there were no U.S. units stationed within the detection area) *Approximate location (detection 7) **Locations of detections 2, 3 and 5 unknown.
SOURCE OF AGENT DETECTED
There are many theories as to the cause of the chemical detections. One theory attributes the detections to an offensive chemical attack. This possibility has been largely disproved, as there were no SCUD impacts in the area until well after the first week of DESERT STORM when the detections occurred. Another theory is that fallout from coalition bombings of Iraqi facilities caused the reported detections. None of the modelling conducted to date indicates that the downwind hazard from southernmost bombed facility could have affected our troops. The Persian Gulf Veterans' Illness Investigation Team is in the process of further exploring the plausibility of venting from bombed chemical facilities several hundred miles north of the Hafir al Batin region. Another possibility is that a release of undetermined origin may have occurred in the vicinity of the detecting units. Given the lack of evidence regarding the source of the agent detected, this question may remain unanswered.
HEALTH OF TROOPS IN DETECTING UNITS
According to the Ministry of Defense, no members of the former Czechoslovak contingent showed symptoms during or after the detections were made in Saudi Arabia. Upon their return, all Czech Persian Gulf veterans underwent complete medical examinations at military facilities. No evidence of physical effects from exposure to harsh climatic conditions or chemical agents was found among any of the soldiers. In spite of this, former Minister of Defense Antonin Baudys ordered all 198 Persian Gulf veterans to undergo yearly examinations at military hospitals for a ten-year period. Based on the results of all medical examinations of Czech Persian Gulf veterans conducted to date, the official position of the General Staff Military Medical Directorate is that there is no established direct link between veterans' illnesses and their service in the Persian Gulf.
The French Ministry of Defense likewise reports that none of their Persian Gulf veterans exhibited any symptoms related to chemical exposure while in theater, and none have since reported illnesses due to their service in the Gulf.
As with our other investigations, the conclusions we draw are based on relevant information we have received to date. Should new evidence become available, it will be taken into consideration. At this point, based on the equipment used and the detections teams' training and competency, the evidence indicates that the Czech detections made on 19 and 24 January 1991 are credible. The other detections discussed above, while not as thoroughly substantiated, cannot be discounted. There are no reports of other coalition countries detecting the presence of any chemical agent in the Persian Gulf during DESERT STORM. The above-listed detections were made within a relatively confined area during the first week of the bombing campaign. Additionally, the agents were detected using very sensitive detection equipment and could only have been present for short periods of time. The agents, if present, dissipated so quickly that in all cases in which U.S. troops were called upon to confirm the detections, not enough of the agent remained to register on the detectors. To date, no coalition country has made a clinical link between Gulf War veterans' illnesses and their service in the Persian Gulf.