Investigators from the Investigations and Analysis Directorate have identified several key lessons learned while investigating the Czech and French reports of possible chemical agent detections. The following lessons learned do not represent opinions or positions of other departments or agencies outside the US Department of Defense, nor do they represent the lessons learned by Coalition nations identified in this case narrative.
One of the most important lessons is in the area of communication. Members of the Coalition reported to CENTCOM in different manners. As a result, the Czechs reported to the Saudis and the Saudis, in turn, reported to CENTCOM. This delayed CENTCOM's effort to confirm the detection and any other actions required as a result of the report. If a more direct channel of communication had been established, CENTCOM would have had more detailed and timely accounts of the detections.
Coalition Detection Capabilities
Another lesson learned is the importance of being familiar with the chemical detection equipment used by Coalition members, its strengths, its weaknesses, and the abilities of the NBC specialists trained to use it. Whether or not the CENTCOM NBC staff understood the sensitivity of the Czech equipment, and whether that knowledge would have changed what they did at the time is unclear, but, in general, a complete understanding of this equipment would have given the CENTCOM specialists working NBC issues a better understanding of reported readings, and made them better able to judge the proper actions to take in response to a reported detection.
Another lesson learned is the need for an established, well-understood confirmation process. At times, confirmatory tests were attempted several hours after the initial detection was reported. This delay was due, in part, to the lack of an established system for conducting the confirmatory tests. There was also a lack of understanding or agreement on the part of decision-makers as to what constituted confirmation of a detection. If a confirmation system had been established, verification could have been conducted in a more timely and thorough manner, thus giving more accurate results. Also, log entries should have more accurately recorded whether the reports had been properly confirmed or merely suspected. Another requirement of the confirmatory process is the need for adequate air and/or soil samples for external confirmation of a reported "valid" detection. These samples would allow other Coalition nations to test for the presence of agents and complete the confirmatory process.
Low Level Chemical Agents
The consequences of low level chemical agent exposure needs to be better understood by the individuals making decisions about reported detections. In part, this is related to the lessons learned above (e.g., the Czech detectors detected lower concentrations of agent than would have US detectors, so confirmation with a US detector might not have been a logical decision). Also, commanders cannot make informed decisions about actions that affect their troops without the knowledge of the possible presence and effects of low levels of agents. This could only further help protect US service members in future conflicts.
This case is still being investigated. Due to difficulty in obtaining detailed evidence from the Czech and French governments, we would especially like to hear from anyone with personal knowledge of these incidents, i.e., people who were present at the time or who processed any of the reports that were generated as a result of these detections. As additional information becomes available, it will be incorporated. If you have records, photographs, recollections, or find errors in the details reported, please contact the DoD Persian Gulf Task Force Hot Line at 1-800-472-6719.
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