The story of Khamisiyah
has three parts:
- United States military
operations (including demolitions) at Khamisiyah;
- United Nations Special
Commission on Iraq (UNSCOM) inspections of Khamisiyah, which brought to light
the presence of chemical weapons at various locations on and around the site;
- The US government response
to mounting indications that US soldiers may have destroyed chemical munitions
at Khamisiyahthe details the Department of Defense knew, when it knew
the details, and the actions it has taken.
United States Military Operations at Khamisiyah
the end of Operation Desert Storm, US Army units occupied an area in southeastern
Iraq that encompassed Khamisiyah (also known then as the Tall al Lahm Ammunition
Storage Area). Soldiers of the Armys XVIII Airborne Corps conducted two
large-scale demolition operations to destroy the munitions and facilities around
- March 4, 1991. Soldiers
destroyed 37 large ammunition bunkers. Later, Iraq declared that one of these,
Bunker 73, had contained 2,160 chemical warfare agent-filled rockets.
- March 10, 1991. Soldiers
destroyed approximately 40 additional ammunition bunkers and 45 warehouses.
In an open-air location outside the Khamisiyah Ammunition Supply Point (ASP)
now known as "the Pit," soldiers also set charges to approximately
1,250 rockets, many of which UNSCOM later found had contained chemical warfare
Soldiers also conducted
numerous demolitions to destroy smaller caches of munitions and to test techniques
for destroying bunkers. Demolition operations continued in the Khamisiyah area
through the middle of April 1991. The soldiers conducting reconnaissance
and completing the inventories before these demolitions were confident that
they had destroyed only conventional munitions.
Throughout the US
occupation of Khamisiyah, including the demolition period, no reports were made
of chemical warfare agent detections. Nor were there reports of anyonesoldier
or civilianexperiencing symptoms consistent with chemical warfare agent
B. United Nations Special Commission on Iraq
Inspections at Khamisiyah
In October 1991,
March 1992, May 1996, and in 1998, UNSCOM inspected Khamisiyah. In
October 1991, Iraqs officials led UNSCOM inspectors to three sites that
had contained chemical weapons (Figure 2):
- Bunker 73, inside the Khamisiyah
ammunition supply point (ASP);
- The area referred to as the Pit,
outside the southeast corner of the Khamisiyah ASP; and
- An aboveground storage area,
approximately 3 kilometers from the Khamisiyah ASP.
2. Site locations shown to UNSCOM
Bunker 73. During
the 1991 inspection, Iraq claimed that chemical munitions found in the Pit had
been salvaged from Bunker 73 and that Coalition forces had destroyed the bunker.
UNSCOM could not determine if Bunker 73 contained chemical warfare agents at
this time because damaged munitions made it too dangerous to get close enough
to sample or take Chemical Agent Monitor (CAM) readings. However, on a return
visit to the site in May 1996, UNSCOM conclusively determined that debris
(e.g., burster tubes, fill plugs, and plastic inserts) in the rubble of Bunker 73
was characteristic of chemical munitions.
In October 1991, UNSCOM inspectors found several hundred 122mm rockets
that appeared to have been bulldozed and placed into piles in an excavated area
southeast of the main ASP. This area became known as "the Pit." The
UNSCOM investigation showed that the intact rockets contained the chemical warfare
agents sarin and cyclosarin. During a subsequent visit in March 1992, UNSCOM
ordered Iraq to destroy about 500 leaking rockets near the Pit and ship the
remaining rockets to Al Muthanna, Iraq, for destruction. UNSCOM supervised Iraqs
destruction of a total of approximately 782 rockets at the Pit and Al Muthanna.
Storage Area. Iraq also showed the UNSCOM team an above-ground storage site
about 3 kilometers west of the Khamisiyah ASP that contained 6,323 intact 155mm
artillery shells, one of which was leaking mustard agent. No evidence exists
that any Coalition forces had been to this site. Again, UNSCOM ordered Iraq
to ship these rounds to the destruction facility at Al Muthanna.
In November 1991,
US intelligence and DoD became aware of the UNSCOM findings, but at the time,
the information did not result in identifying which, if any, US troops participated
in the Khamisiyah demolition activities. The lack of US reports of chemical
weapons, combined with Iraqs less than full compliance with UNSCOM, led
to doubts about Iraqs claims that chemical weapons had been at the site
when the demolition occurred.
C. The United States Government Response Regarding
Illnesses of Gulf War Veterans
The US government
did not immediately make the connection between the chemical munitions found
by UNSCOM at Khamisiyah and US demolitions operations there. The following is
a chronology of the government response.
- February 1994 A request
from Congressman Browder to the United Nations (UN) for any reports about
chemical weapons found in Iraq after the Gulf War kindled DoD interest in
Khamisiyah. The United Nations responded in April 1994 with a letter that
listed Khamisiyah along with other chemical weapons sites.
- May 1994 During hearings
before the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, DoD and Intelligence
Community witnesses admitted that UNSCOM found chemical weapons at a location
at the time of UNSCOM inspections, but these witnesses were unable to confirm
that any US troops were at the site.
- March 1995 As a result
of presidential concerns and the concerns of two Central Intelligence Agency
(CIA) employees, the CIA began a reexamination of relevant intelligence.
- June 1995 DoD formed the
Persian Gulf Illnesses Investigation Team (later shortened to Persian Gulf
Investigation Team (PGIT)) that by October had identified some of the US forces
that had occupied the area around Khamisiyah during the Gulf War, including
the 37th Engineer Battalion.
- August 1995 President
Clinton created the Presidential Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans
- May 1996 The CIA and PGIT
acknowledged at a Presidential Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans
Illnesses meeting the possibility that US soldiers destroyed munitions at
- June 1996 DoD confirmed
publicly that "US 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."
- October 1996 The Deputy
Secretary of Defense sent a memorandum to 21,000 veterans who had been identified
as being within 50 kilometers of Khamisiyah.
- November 1996 The Secretary
of Defense established the position of Special Assistant for Gulf War Illnesses
to focus ongoing DoD investigations and expand the investigation into Gulf
War veterans complaints of undiagnosed illnesses.
- January 1997 The Deputy
Secretary of Defense sent letters, with a survey attached, to veterans saying
that chemical weapons had been present at Khamisiyah when the demolitions
occurred and urging them to call the Persian Gulf Incident Hotline with any
additional information they may have about the Khamisiyah incident.
- May 1997 DoD and CIA conducted
open field demolition tests on 122mm rockets at Dugway Proving Ground, Utah,
to determine how chemical warfare agents in Iraqs rockets might have been
released by demolitions at Khamisiyah.
- July 1997 DoD and CIA
jointly announced the results of the dispersion modeling for Khamisiyah. Given
the unit locations available then, the modeling indicated a hazard area where
some 99,000 veterans may have been exposed to low levels of nerve agent. DoD
sent written notices to two categories of veterans: those in the potential
hazard area (approximately 99,000) and those who had received the Deputy Secretary
of Defenses letter and survey but were not in the potential hazard area
- December 1997 The Department
of the Army Inspector Generals "Inquiry into Demolition of Iraq
Ammunition" found "no empirical evidence" that chemical munitions
or agents were present at the time of the demolition operations.
- January 1998 President
Clinton created the Presidential Special Oversight Board for the Department
of Defense Investigations of Gulf War Chemical and Biological Incidents to
provide recommendations based on its review of Department of Defense investigations
into possible detections of, and exposures to, chemical or biological weapons
agents, and environmental and other factors that may have contributed to Gulf
- January 2000 DoD completed
the remodeling and revised the 1997 hazard areas.
The early work of
the Special Assistant placed an emphasis on researching US military operations
at Khamisiyah. On February 21, 1997, we published the first Khamisiyah
case narrative. The narrative provided important insights into what actually
took place and which US military units were involved. We intensified our efforts
to identify and contact the thousands of soldiers potentially involved, and
began detailed computer modeling of events in the spring and summer of 1997
to determine the size and path of the potential hazard area created by demolition
activities in the Pit. The modeling resulted in DoD sending notification letters
to approximately 99,000 veterans. It is important to note that the modeling
process is based on computer simulations and not empirical data. Results, although
based on best science, are predictions and should be evaluated carefully.
continued through 1998 and 1999. Some of the more significant refinements included
revision of meteorological models, an updated CIA estimate of how much chemical
warfare agent was released, addition of deposition and decay to the models and
consideration of toxicity of both sarin and cyclosarin in the models. The modeling
team completed remodeling the Khamisiyah Pit demolition in January 2000 that
resulted in redefined potential hazard areas. DoD identified 100,752 veterans
in the potential hazard areas who possibly were exposed to low levels of nerve
agent. Our fundamental modeling methodology has not changed since 1997. In 2000,
like 1997, we used the outer boundaries of the union of the results from different
models to define the potential hazard area. This approach gave us greater assurance
of identifying US units in the potential hazard area.
The first narrative
left the following five questions for follow-up research:
- How many chemical warfare munitions
were present in Bunker 73 and the Pit at the time of the US demolition
- Were two separate groups working
at the Pit on March 10, 1991?
- Was there an additional demolition
of munitions in the Pit on March 12, 1991?
- Who were the 15 to 20 engineers
assigned to assist the explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) noncommissioned officer
in the Pit on March 10 or 12, 1991?
- What were the weather conditions
on the day(s) of the Pit demolition(s)?
This updated narrative
includes significant additional information that enabled the Special Assistant
to address each of these five questions and to better understand the effect
of the demolition operations on US soldiers.
updated narrative addresses, and assesses, two more questions:
- Did US forces destroy chemical
warfare weapons stored at Khamisiyah?
- Were US forces exposed to nerve
agents as a result of demolition activities?
This narrative includes
the following conclusions:
- Chemical munitions were definitely
present at three locations at Khamisiyah.
- US soldiers definitely destroyed
manybut not allof the chemical rockets at Khamisiyah.
- Some US ground forces were likely
exposed to very low levels of nerve agent from the demolition of rockets in
the Pit on March 10, 1991.
- It is unlikely US ground forces
were exposed to chemical warfare agent from the Bunker 73 demolition on March
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