The story of the Khamisiyah Ammunition Storage Point or ASP has three parts: the efforts of U.S. forces to destroy Khamisiyah, the inspection of the site by the United Nations Special Commission or UNSCOM, and the public inquiry into the events that occurred there, "what we knew, and when we knew it:"
The Destruction of Khamisiyah
Immediately following the end of Operation Desert Storm, U.S. Army units occupied the area known as Objective GOLD and later identified as the Khamisiyah ASP (which was also known as Tall al Lahm or Suq Ash Shuyukh). Khamisiyah was a huge ammunition storage site, covering 50 square kilometers and containing about 100 ammunition bunkers and several other types of storage facilities. The XVIII Corps (Airborne) (ABN) dispatched combat engineer and demolition units to Khamisiyah to destroy its munitions and facilities.
To perform the demolition, U.S. forces set off two very large explosions, one on 4 March 1991 and a second on 10 March 1991. They also set off a number of smaller explosions to destroy small caches of munitions and to test techniques for destroying bunkers. Demolition operations continued in the Khamisiyah area through most of April 1991.
During the demolition operations, and, indeed, throughout the entire period of U.S. occupation at Khamisiyah, there were no reports of verified chemical agent detections, nor were there reports of anyone, soldier or civilian, experiencing symptoms consistent with exposure to a chemical agent.
In October 1991 and March 1992, and then again in May 1996, the UNSCOM inspected Khamisiyah, specifically searching for chemical weapons. Based on their own inspections and information provided by the Iraqis, UNSCOM inspectors identified three sites in and around Khamisiyah that had contained chemical weapons: in an area that became known as the "pit;" in Bunker 73, one of the bunkers subsequently identified as having been blown up by U.S. troops; and in an above-ground storage area.
In October 1991, UNSCOM inspectors found about 300 damaged and intact 122mm rockets in an area surrounded by a berm southeast of the main ASP. This area became known as the "pit." Their investigation showed that the intact rockets contained chemical agents (sarin and cyclosarin). During a subsequent visit in March 1992, about 500 rockets were blown up on site near the "pit", with the remaining rockets being shipped to Al Muthanna, Iraq for subsequent destruction. The UNSCOM destruction efforts accounts for 782 rockets; the Iraqis report that 2,160 such rockets had been at Khamisiyah. It is unknown how many of the unaccounted for rockets were destroyed by U.S. forces.
During the 1991 inspection, the Iraqis claimed that chemical munitions found in the "pit" had been salvaged from Bunker 73 and that both had been destroyed by Coalition Forces. UNSCOM inspectors visited the site of the bunker, which appeared damaged, and used chemical agent monitors. These monitors were negative, and the inspectors did not thoroughly search the bunker.
The UNSCOM team was also shown an above-ground storage site about 3 kilometers west of the ASP containing 6,300 intact 155mm artillery shells filled with mustard agent. To date, there is no evidence that any Coalition Forces had been to this site. These rounds were also shipped to the destruction facility at Al Muthanna.
US intelligence became aware of the UNSCOM findings in November 1991, but at the time this report did not result in identification of which, if any, U.S. troops participated in demolition activities at Khamisiyah. The lack of contemporaneous U.S. reports of chemical weapons, and the fact that the Iraqis were selective in their willingness to cooperate, as reported by UNSCOM to the United Nations Security Council, led to the belief the Iraqis were not telling the truth about chemical weapons being at the site when the demolition occurred. In May 1996, UNSCOM again returned to Khamisiyah, where the team conclusively identified debris in the rubble of Bunker 73 that was characteristic of chemical munitions.
The Public Inquiry
In February 1994, a request from Congressman Browder to the UN for any reports about chemical weapons found in Iraq after the Gulf War rekindled U.S. interest in Khamisiyah. The UN responded with a letter in April 1994 which listed Khamisiyah along with other chemical weapons sites. During hearings on export administration in May 1994 before the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, DoD witnesses admitted the UN had found chemical weapons at Khamisiyah but were unable to confirm that any U.S. troops were at the site.
In March 1995, as a result of Presidential concerns, the CIA began a reexamination of relevant intelligence. In May 1995, a Presidential Advisory Committee (PAC) was created. In June 1995, DoD formed the Persian Gulf Illnesses Investigation Team (PGIIT). Throughout 1995 and 1996, interest in Khamisiyah and the events surrounding it increased. On June 21, 1996, DoD confirmed publicly that "U.S. soldiers from the 37th Engineer Battalion destroyed ammunition bunkers at [Khamisiyah] in early March 1991 ... it now appears that one of these destroyed bunkers contained chemical weapons."
DoD investigation into the subject continues. What follows provides additional detail about the events described in this summary. The information upon which this narrative is based is incomplete. As the investigation continues, the IAD hopes to answer a number of these questions, including the following:
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