The Fourth Operation - Permanent Sealing of the Tank at the Kuwaiti Girls’ School

The fourth operation was mounted on August 14, 1991. The CO 3rd Troop decided to conduct the testing of the Mk IV suit material first. A test sample of Mk IV suit material and cotton was prepared, representing the inner and outer layers of the normal NBC IPE in service with the British Forces at that time. Three-color detector paper was included between the various layers.[159]

The CO 3rd Troop then approached the ammunition box wearing full IPE. A BDENGR, also in IPE, observed the CO’s actions. The CO 3rd Troop removed the two sample bottles from the ammunition box. He found that the liquid agent had corroded the bottle tops and that only a small amount of liquid agent now remained.[160] Nevertheless, there was still enough to conduct the test.

On contact with the suit, the liquid burned the outer fabric causing it to tear. Within 3 minutes, the liquid had seeped through the charcoal layer. The suit layers then fused together. On examination it was found that the charcoal layer had absorbed much of the liquid agent. However, the inner cotton layer was stained and slightly burnt. The three-color detector paper had turned red which suggested the presence of blister agent.[161]

Once the test was complete, the remaining liquid was poured into the sand and mixed with fuller’s earth and bleach.[162] This is the standard method of decontaminating blister agent contamination. The bottles were burned at the end of the operation.

During the tests, the CO 3rd Troop received a small amount of liquid contamination on his gloves. He noticed heat from areas that had been contaminated and therefore replaced his gloves as soon as possible.[163]

The CO 3rd Troop and the BDENGR then commenced the tank sealing operation. They removed the old seals and replaced them with lead dowel plugs. These were hammered in and fixed with self-tapping screws. The seals were then covered with epoxy resin. Once the resin hardened, the areas around the seals were checked with a CAM and three-color detector paper to ensure there were no leaks. There were none.[164]

The CO 3rd Troop and the BDENGR then returned to the EPDS and were decontaminated. Following usual procedure, only re-useable items were retained, the rest being destroyed by burning. However, exceptionally the sample of Mk IV suit used to test the liquid agent was decontaminated and retained by 21st EOD Squadron.[165] To date, the UK MOD has been unable to locate the sample of Mk IV suit retained at that time by 21st EOD.

Conclusions of the Fourth Operation

The liquid agent was found to have corroded the tops of both bottles stored in the ammunition box and, more importantly, rapidly penetrated the sample of Mk IV NBC suit used by the CO 3rd Troop in the test. As in previous operations, contamination on the gloves of those handling the liquid agent had caused heat to be produced and the gloves needed replacing. The fact that the three-color detector paper turned red again suggested the presence of blister agent. The method used by the CO 3rd Troop to dispose of the remaining liquid from bottles suggests that he thought this was the case.

It is important to note that the end of operation report prepared by the CO 3rd Troop was only copied to the British personnel involved in the tank.

The Fourth Operation - Subsequent Events

After the fourth operation, 21st EOD Squadron continued to monitor the tank regularly for leaks.

On August 18, 1991, The Sunday Observer, a British newspaper, reported:

"A massive drum containing mustard gas agent has been discovered in Kuwait City, providing the first proof that Iraq had chemical weapons ready for use in the Gulf War."[166]

It went on to say:

"The chemicals would be destroyed by a team from Royal Ordnance."

In fact, no decision had yet been made about the destruction of the tank because results from CBDE Porton Down’s analysis were still awaited. It was not possible, therefore, to formulate a suitable method of disposal for the tank and its contents.

CBDE Porton Down Analysis of the Samples Taken from in the Tank

As reported earlier, the Sampling Team took the samples they had collected from Kuwait to Bahrain. From here it was envisaged that they could be flown direct to the UK. However, the Royal Air Force was no longer operating flights from Bahrain and was, therefore, unable to transport the samples. This caused some considerable delay while alternative travel arrangements were made for the samples. Eventually, the German Luftwaffe flew the samples as far as Munster, Germany.[167] The samples arrived at Munster on September 12, 1991 where two members of CBDE were waiting to collect them. The CBDE staff signed for the samples and returned to CBDE Porton Down which is located in Wiltshire in the UK. The samples arrived at Porton Down on September 13, 1991 where they were signed over to the analytical team.[168]

At CBDE Porton Down the analytical team noted that the two samples had been collected on XAD-4 resin and were labeled sample 1 and sample 3, both dated August 10, 1991.[169]

The Porton Down initial report dated September 24, 1991, stated that: "the samples had a definite yellow/brownish color compared to the original white of the resin. Extraction of the resin with dichloromethane and analysis by gas chromatography/mass spectrometry showed no material of CW [chemical warfare] interest. Extraction of the resin from sample 1 showed 16 mg of nitrate and a pH of 2.2. Resin from sample 3 showed 35 mg of nitrate and a pH of 2.0. An extract of blank resin of similar weight contained less than 0.2 mg of nitrate and had a pH of 6.5. The samples were entirely consistent with the contents of the tank being nitric acid and there is no evidence of any CW dimension."[170] (TAB J)

Although the Porton Down initial report indicated that a detailed report would follow, no such detailed report was ever produced. This is probably because once it had been established that the tank’s contents contained no material of chemical warfare interest the matter assumed a low priority, and the aim of producing a detailed reported was overtaken by other, more pressing, commitments.

Notification of CBDE Porton Down’s Findings

Major Watkinson indicated that he was notified of the Chemical and Biological Defence Establishment’s findings in late September 1991.[171] He, in turn, notified Colonel Macel of these results (that the tank did not contain chemical warfare agent, but rather nitric acid).[172] Colonel Macel informed the US military’s Central Command, the Defense Reconstruction Assistance Office, the Director of Operations for the Kuwaiti military’s general headquarters, and Task Force Victory.[173] However, by the time the results of the sampling had reached the Gulf, Lieutenant Colonel Killgore, along with the 54th Chemical Troop had already left the region. None of the Americans or Britons contacted recalled seeing a formal report of the CBDE Porton Down sampling results from either the UK or the US.

Disposal of the Tank

On September 27, 1991, CBDE Porton Down were informed by Headquarters British Forces (HQBF) Kuwait that they were still concerned about the disposal of the tank. 21st EOD Squadron was due to return to the UK on October 2, 1991 and all of its equipment had been packed ready for shipping. It could not therefore carry out procedures to dispose of the tank and its contents. HQBF Kuwait stated that they needed to pass on the correct disposal procedure to the Kuwaiti Army before 21st EOD Squadron left Kuwait.[174]

CBDE Porton Down responded on September 30 1991. They advised that the tank may contain up to two tons of nitric acid and that this would be extremely difficult to dispose of safely.[175] Untrained personnel should not attempt it, nor should disposal be attempted in place. As the tank was in good condition and the bullet holes effectively sealed, it was suggested that the tank could be sold to the local chemical industry or, if this failed, that the chemical industry might be paid to remove the tank. Another option was to invite Iraq to dispose of the tank. Contemporary evidence suggests that the Kuwaiti MOD decided to let companies tender for the disposal of the contract.[176]

On October 29, 1991, Passive Barriers, which had originally discovered the tank, notified Brown & Root that the container held fuming nitric acid.[177] According to the Brown & Root supervisor, Passive Barriers had access to a laboratory in the UK that had received samples of the tank’s contents.[178] A statement made by an employee of Passive Barriers suggests that another sample of the tank’s contents had been sent to CBDE Porton Down for analysis.[179] The UK MOD researched this claim and could find no evidence that any samples, other than those taken by the Sampling Team on August 10, 1991, were taken from the tank and returned to the UK for analysis. It was more likely that advice was sought from HQBF Kuwait who were already aware of the CBDE Porton Down analysis and that the results of this analysis was passed to Passive Barriers.

On October 30, 1991, the Brown & Root supervisor informed KERO of the contents of the tank. KERO then requested that Brown & Root provide disposal options and cost estimates. However, neither Brown & Root nor Passive Barriers handled the tank’s disposal. A Passive Barriers employee has stated that the Kuwaiti Fire Service removed the tank while his company was still tendering for disposal for the contract. According to him, the tank was taken into the desert and burned.[180]

Efforts to confirm Kuwaiti Fire Service involvement in the tank’s disposal continue.

Public Review of the Case

Subsequent Events in the US - Captain Johnson’s Report

In January 1994, then-Captain Johnson, who had been the Commander of the 54th Chemical Troop, was troubled by the absence of a formal report on the events at the Kuwaiti Girls’ School. This was because "the history of my unit’s chemical detection actions with 21st British EOD Royal Engineers, was not properly documented. I had not seen any official or unofficial record of those actions."[181] He drafted a report detailing events at the school for use in course instruction focusing on lessons learned in NBC defensive operations during the Gulf War. The report was reviewed by the chain-of-command, US Army Infantry Training School, which authorized its use in instruction.[182] This report was eventually obtained by staff members of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, who were investigating allegations of chemical agent use in the Gulf War. Senate hearings held in the summer of 1994, thrust the events at the Kuwaiti Girls’ School into the public eye.

The Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Investigation

Senate investigators focused on three key points: 1) the validity of the tests run, 2) the nature of the material in question, and 3) the injury sustained by the British soldier during testing. The Committee staff pointed out that multiple tests were conducted, using various different types of detection equipment, all of which provided positive alarms for chemical warfare agent.[183]

Committee staff members maintained that the substance in the container was oily in nature and brown in color, both of which are indicators for mustard agent.[184] Regarding the British soldier’s injury, the staff members concluded that the immediate reaction and burn associated with contact to the material was consistent with phosgene oxime.[185] Based on the evidence presented, the Senate Committee concluded that it was likely that the tank had contained a mix of chemical warfare agents.[186]

The Senate Committee concluded that 21 tests were conducted on the contents of the tank.[187] However, it appears that the Committee counted the Fox alarms and their corresponding spectrum printouts as separate tests, when in fact, they are not. Additionally, the Committee noted MM-1 alarms for phosgene oxime when, in fact, the MM-1s alarmed for phosgene not phosgene oxime.[188] A table illustrating the tests conducted at the Girls’ School in August 1991, the different detectors used for each, their respective outcomes, and reasons to question these outcomes is at Figure 18.


Test #


Reasons to Question Outcome

1, 14

Registered 8 bars on scale for mustard agent IRFNA known to cause CAM to false positive for mustard agent[189]
One-Color Detector Paper

2, 4

Negative response British detector paper used should have turned blue, not brown.[190]
Three-Color Detector Paper

3, 5, 12 , 13

Pink; pink/orange, both deemed positive for mustard agent IRFNA is suspected of causing a false positive for blister agent based on the theoretical reaction between the inhibitor and the dyes in the paper. (Note: RFNA used in laboratories does not cause this reaction.)[191]

6 - 11

(4) blue; (2) yellow eventually turning blue Major Watkinson stated that the M18A2 tubes did not respond as was expected in the presence of true chemical warfare agent, which is why he ended up testing it six times.[192]
MM-1 Mobile Mass Spectrometer used on Fox Vehicle


Alarms received for mustard agent and phosgene Corresponding spectra identified an unknown substance with atomic mass unit 46 at 100% relative intensity which is reflective of pure RFNA.[193]

Figure 18. Tests conducted at the Kuwaiti Girls’ School in August 1991.

In committee testimony, DOD stated that when American scientists at CRDEC learned of the British determination that the content was nitric acid, they compared the Fox tapes to the mass spectrum of nitric acid. The spectrum reportedly matched nitric acid in all four categories and in the correct proportions.[194] The scientists also confirmed that neither mustard agent nor phosgene oxime were present in the tank.[195] These statements made by DOD were incorrect and somewhat misleading. In truth, only a single peak, not three or four, would register for nitric acid on the Fox vehicle’s MM-1. Additionally, the Fox tapes, which DOD was unable to produce for review by the Committee, clearly show no alarm was received for phosgene oxime. Alarms were received only for mustard agent and phosgene. (TAB G)

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