G.  Operations of the 2d Marine Division

The 2d Marine Division (2d MARDIV) consisted of units from the 6th Marine, 8th Marine, and 10th Marine Regiments; the US Army’s 1st Brigade of the 2nd Armored Division (the Tiger Brigade), and other supporting Marine units.[69] The 2d MARDIV attacked approximately 25 kilometers to the northwest (Figure 8) of the 1st Marine Division. NBC guidance for the 2d MARDIV, given to the commanders in various operation plans and written orders, warned of the possibility of a chemical warfare agent attack. For example, a 2d MARDIV operations order for the breaching operations directed all subordinate units to "[a]ssume all Iraqi mines, missiles, artillery and aircraft attacks to be chemical [warfare agent] until proven otherwise."[70] The Fox crews were well aware of their need to detect possible chemical warfare agents from such an attack and warn the forces, but they were still under direction to maintain the tactical momentum through the minefields. Therefore, "it was obvious ... from the very beginning ... that it would not be possible for any Fox under fire to stop and complete the entire testing and sampling process necessary to confirm any agent findings."[71]

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Figure 8.  2d Marine Division minefield breaching area

The commanding general’s guidance to the 2d MARDIV, as reiterated in the 6th Marine Regiment fragmentary order, was, "The enemy has and will use chemical weapons. Unit commanders should expect to encounter the use of chemical weapons, but should not become consumed with chemical survival and ignore other important tasks, missions, etc. Expect a fair share of chemical casualties along with other conventional casualties. Remember, mission accomplishment is paramount, and risks must be taken if MOPP posture will prevent mission accomplishment. Let us not win the chemical survival battle and lose the tactical battle."[72]

The Marines of the 2d MARDIV were briefed to expect chemical mines interspersed with conventional mines. As the company commander of a 2d MARDIV armored assault battalion recalled, "We were prepared to go into MOPP 4"[73] (full mission oriented protective posture that included wearing the protective mask, gloves, boots, and overgarment). Like their counterparts in the 1st MARDIV, the Marines in the 2d MARDIV were primed to expect chemical warfare agent attack and were well trained to respond and fight through that eventuality.

1.  Task Organization for Breaching Operations

The 2d MARDIV identified their breaching lanes by color and number from left to right (west to east)—lanes Red 1, Red 2, Blue 3, Blue 4, Green 5, and Green 6. The far west flank of the 2d MARDIV's breaching area was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment (the 1/6). Company B of the 1/6 breached through the western-most lane, Red 1, while Company C breached directly to the right via lane Red 2.[74] The Marines completed two return lanes—one lane to the left and one to the right of the six assault lanes—after initial breaching operations to enable equipment and personnel to evacuate to the rear without interfering with the advance.[75]

Assault amphibian vehicles (AAVs - Figure 9) of the AAV battalion’s 1st Platoon, Company B, transported Company B of the 1/6 through the minefields and into battle through breaching lane Red 1. The 1st Platoon’s AAVs[76] were each tightly packed with an infantry squad (15 Marines), an infantry commander, three crewmen, and all of their gear (Figure 10).[77]

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Figure 9.  Marine Corps assualt amphibian vehicle

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Figure 10.  Interior of an AAV

2.  Breaching Lane Red 1 Chemical Warfare Agent Alert

"US Marines in the Persian Gulf, 1990-1991: With the 2D Marine Division in Desert Shield and Desert Storm" (hereafter referred to as "2d Marine Division Monograph") recounted a chemical warfare agent alert. This document is often cited as proof of Iraq’s use of chemical warfare agents during the Gulf War. It mentions a chemical warfare agent detection by a Fox on the first day of the ground war: "… the ‘Fox’ chemical reconnaissance vehicle at lane Red 1 detected a ‘trace’ of mustard gas, originally thought to be from a chemical mine."[78] The 2d Marine Division Monograph also states that another Fox was sent to breaching lane Red 1, and confirmed the presence of a chemical warfare agent. Searching for evidence to substantiate the monograph entry, we interviewed other 2d MARDIV Fox crewmen and NBC personnel. See Tab E for the results of those interviews.

As did the 1st MARDIV, the 2d MARDIV began breaching operations outfitted in MOPP-2.[79] The morning started with a light mist, but cleared as the day progressed.[80] Smoke from burning oil well fires obscured the sun through most of the day. In fact, the burning oil wells were close enough to lane Red 1 that when navigation hardware failed, the Company B, 1/6 commander directed his driver to align on and steer toward a burning oil well (such as those shown in Figure 11), one of which was only about 100 meters away.[81]

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Figure 11.  Burning oil well heads in Kuwait

A Fox assigned in direct support joined the 1/6 on February 17, 1991, one week before the actual attack.[82] As the 1/6 Fox crossed the first minefield, its MM-1 operator observed little activity on his screen. About halfway across the minefield, the MM-1 alerted to the possible presence of chemical warfare agents, so the 1/6 Fox commander announced "gas, gas, gas" over the battalion communications network and filed an NBC-4 report[83] (Figure 12) for suspected contamination.[84]

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Figure 12.  The NBC-4 report received by Blue Light, the 1/6 NBC officer

The NBC summary of the 1/6 command chronology stated, "At 0630 the Fox detects Sarin (nerve) and HQ mustard (blister) agents in the first breach [first minefield] of Red Lane 1. Battalion units in Red Lane 1 [lane Red 1] advanced to MOPP Level IV."[85]

Other vehicles proceeded through the breaching lane ahead of the Fox. The Fox commander remembered that his vehicle was about the fifth one through the breach. After combat engineers exploded a path through the minefield, tanks with track-width mine plows proofed the lane (standard procedure before the Fox or any other vehicle would enter the lane). Security personnel in three assault amphibian vehicles followed behind the tanks, followed by a command and control AAV, followed by the Fox.[86] According to the testimony of a member of Company B’s 1st platoon, and corroborated by an audio tape recorded at the time, his unit had almost reached the area between the minefields near an above-ground pipeline before the Fox sounded the warning. During their crossing, he recounted that his vehicle was open and many personnel were standing up looking out the open hatches while only in MOPP-2. No one experienced any symptoms of contact with a chemical warfare agent and none of the M9 chemical detector paper they had strapped to their arms and legs recorded any liquid chemical warfare agent contact.[87]

The 6th Marines regimental listing of significant events notes an initial report at 6:31 AM, followed at 6:35 AM with the identification of the suspected chemical warfare agents as "Sarin nerve agent and Lewisite mustard [sic] gas."[88] The commander of the 1st platoon, Company B, 1st Armored Assault Battalion, placed the time at approximately 6:30 AM, and remembered that the Fox reported traces of both non-persistent nerve agents and persistent blister agents.[89] The 1/6 NBC officer recorded the event at 6:34 AM.[90] The 2d MARDIV NBC platoon at the combat operations center recorded the report as an NBC-1, changing the reconnaissance report (NBC-4) to an attack report (NBC-1) at 6:58 AM, and at 11:50 AM, the 2d MARDIV sent NBC-1 messages to the I MEF.[91] Many units relayed this report. For example, the 7th Marine Regiment in the 1st MARDIV recorded the event at 7:14 AM,[92] and even the Army's XVIII Airborne (ABN) Corps Main, far west of the Marines, was informed of the incident by the XVIII ABN Corps Rear at 9:55 AM.[93]

Based on the warning from the 1/6 Fox, 1/6 personnel in lane Red 1 donned their chemical protective masks and gloves (MOPP-4), "but returned to MOPP Level II 500m[eters] beyond the breach."[94] Although these reports are well documented, the source of the suspected chemical warfare agent was not established. NBC officers in other breach lanes evaluated the wind (it was blowing away from their lanes, not towards them) and decided that increasing MOPP level for their personnel was not warranted.[95]

3.   CAM and M9 Chemical Detection Paper Indications

In lane Red 1 in the second minefield, mines disabled the AAV in front of the Fox, forcing it to stop. The Fox commander recalled ordering two of his crewmen into MOPP-4 and had them exit the vehicle. Once outside, the crewmen used a chemical agent monitor (CAM) to check their vehicle for residual agents but found none, despite the fact that both HQ mustard and lewisite (two of the three agents to which their MM-1 alerted) are persistent agents. However, the crewmen noticed that M9 chemical warfare agent detection paper (designed to detect only liquid chemical warfare agents) attached to the Fox had turned red in spots, indicating a possible exposure to liquid chemical warfare agents. At that time, there were many enemy prisoners of war in the immediate area, so the two crewmen assisted combat engineers in collecting the prisoners.[96]

Although the Fox commander stated that both crewmen left the vehicle in MOPP-4, the crewmen stated that they did not wear their masks (they were in MOPP-2) while outside the Fox. One crewman noted the presence of many enemy prisoners of war, and stated that none of them exhibited symptoms of chemical warfare agent exposure.[97]

During a pause in the offensive on the evening of the first day, the Fox MM-1 was sampling the air but receiving no indications of chemical warfare agent vapors. The crew left the vehicle and used a CAM to check other vehicles that had passed through lane Red 1; none showed any signs of mustard or lewisite. One shrapnel hole in an equipment pack registered a 2-bar reading[98] (out of a maximum of 8-bars) for a G-series nerve agent, indicating a possible low chemical warfare agent vapor concentration.[99] The Fox crewman who operated the CAM stated that he did not wear a protective mask while checking the vehicles and did not exhibit any symptoms of exposure.[100] The vehicle's crew was told to stay clear of the pack, and in the morning, the hole did not register anything.[101] Neither the Fox nor the assault amphibian vehicle was decontaminated.[102] The Fox commander stated that he notified the 1/6 NBC officer, but did not issue an NBC warning for the CAM detection.[103] Marines in the immediate vicinity of the vehicle did not take protective measures, and no injuries were reported.

4.   Analysis of the Breaching Lane Red 1 Chemical Warfare Agent Alert

The MM-1 can print certain information about the chemicals displayed on its screen (e.g., a list of ion masses and intensities) on a paper tape for later analysis. The MM-1 tape (Figure 13) from the 1/6 Fox shows alerts for sarin, HQ mustard, and lewisite. Responding to these alerts, the Fox crew took the correct proactive action and warned the 1/6 of the possible presence of chemical warfare agents.

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Figure 13.  The 1/6 MM-1 Fox tape

The first alarm occurred at 6:21 AM (February 24, 1991) when the MM-1 alerted to "Fat, Oil, Wax." A minute later, a second alert occurred for "Fat, Oil, Wax," but this time the MM-1 indicated that lewisite also might be present. Because the MM-1 makes its initial detection using a four-ion fingerprint from the entire spectrum of a chemical warfare agent, it can sound a false alarm due to similar ion patterns from interfering chemicals. A second step of the Fox confirmation process is needed to evaluate the spectrum and compare it to the library of known chemical warfare agents.

The Fox MM-1 operator did take a spectrum with the MM-1, but did not reduce the probe’s temperature to better discriminate among the substances detected, nor did the Fox stop, since it was in the middle of a combat operation.

Normally, before taking a spectrum, the operator would operate a temperature program that heats the probe from 180 C to over 200 C to clean the MM-1 of any previous contamination. After the temperature program, the operator determines whether the probe is clean by examining the ion activity on the MM-1 screen. Before taking the spectrum, the MM-1 operator should have changed the sampling method and waited approximately three minutes, allowing the probe to cool.[104]

In this case, however, the MM-1 operator performed none of these pre-spectrum steps because he did not have time to do so.[105] Stopping the Fox would have seriously disrupted the momentum of the Marines transiting through the breaching lane. Nevertheless, the spectrum taken immediately after the lewisite alert showed only "Fat, Oil, Wax," indicating that the sample was composed of, or contaminated by, hydrocarbons. More alerts followed from 6:23 AM to 6:26 AM, again primarily for "Fat, Oil, Wax," but with the possibility of sarin or HQ mustard presence. Again the MM-1 operator ran a spectrum without performing the pre-spectrum steps and again the spectrum showed only "Fat, Oil, Wax." Spectrums run at 6:27 AM and 6:32 AM showed only "Fat, Oil, Wax." From 6:35 AM to 6:37 AM, the MM-1 again alerted for HQ mustard, but the printout tape indicates that the operator did not take spectrums during these times.

We provided the tape that recorded the MM-1’s results to the US Army’s Chemical and Biological Defense Command (CBDCOM) for analysis. After analyzing the MM-1 tape, CBDCOM determined that although the procedures used by the Fox crew may have been appropriate for the operational situation, these procedures were insufficient to confirm the presence of chemical warfare agents.[106] Both the Fox commander and the MM-1 operator have testified that the detections were made using the sampling wheels,[107] but according to CBDCOM, the sample was obtained using vapor sampling.[108] The letter "A" preceding the numbers (the relative intensities) on an MM-1 tape indicates that an air sample generated an alarm, not a liquid substance vaporized off a sampling wheel (see Figure 13).[109]

As a vapor-sampling device, the MM-1 is far less sensitive than other detectors.[110] As mentioned in the analysis of the 1st Marine Division Fox incident, according to the Report of the Defense Science Board Task Force on Persian Gulf War Health Effects, "When operating in the air sampling mode, the FOX is not a suitable warning device; very high concentrations of chemical agents would have to be present, such that unprotected troops in the vicinity would be adversely and acutely affected."[111] A US Army pre-Gulf War test and evaluation report stated, "It [the MM-1] is much more sensitive to liquids than to vapors, and does not detect [chemical warfare agent] vapor to the danger level for humans."[112]

Twice within one minute (6:23 AM), the 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment Fox MM-1 alerted the crew to the possible presence of sarin vapor. However, if sarin was present in breaching lane Red 1, and the MM-1 detected its presence, the sarin vapor would have been at levels above the danger level for humans. Marines, who passed through lane Red 1 ahead of the Fox at MOPP-2, would have been exposed to dangerous levels of sarin vapor. Despite these facts, we are aware of only two Marines who sought medical attention after breaching operations in lane Red 1. The reported symptoms of these Marines were not consistent with nerve agent exposure (a discussion of possible chemical warfare agent injuries appears later in this paper).

When the MM-1 alerted to "Fat, Oil, Wax" and a chemical warfare agent, the MM-1 tape always indicated "Fat, Oil, Wax" at higher relative intensities than the suspected chemical warfare agent, indicating that a high level of interfering hydrocarbons was present at that time. Fox experts have stated that "Fat, Oil, Wax" indicates a false alarm due to battlefield contaminants.[113] Witness reports confirm that smoke and oil from the oil well fires were indeed in the air. In its analysis, CBDCOM stated:

While it is true that the MM-1 only obtained a spectrum of the highest level intensity response, and that the spectrum was determined by the MM-1 to best match the fat, oil and wax algorithm; we know from lengthy experience with the MM-1 that under circumstances of high interferent concentrations, the MM-1 is prone to responding with incorrect initial alarms for other compounds being monitored.[114]

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) also evaluated the Fox tape. While NIST’s assessment does not definitively rule out the presence of chemical warfare agents, its experts concluded, "It is likely that the reports of lewisite, sarin and HQ mustard on the tapes are false positive results caused by interference with complex hydrocarbon mixtures at the points of measurement…. [The] high relative concentrations of ‘fat, oil, wax’ strongly suggest the presence of significant hydrocarbon background," leading to a false initial identification.[115]

Similarly, Bruker Daltonics (hereafter referred to as Bruker), a nationally renowned expert on the MM-1, analyzed the tape and concluded, "[T]he information in the tapes is consistent with the background information of driving through an area with large amounts of oil in the background."[116] To determine if chemical warfare agents were present as well as the "Fat, Oil, Wax," the MM-1 operator would have had to perform special additional spectrum analyses following the normal spectrum. However, US military personnel were not taught to perform these special spectrum techniques during their training courses.[117]

Although the MM-1 printed the alerts on the tape, it did not print the ions of the spectra. Apparently, the Fox was not operating with the "auto print" feature activated, and the operator did not depress the print button to print the ion pattern of each spectrum onto the tape. Consequently, it is not possible to determine what the MM-1 operator saw on the screen. The actual ion fragmentation pattern that could have provided details of the chemicals detected does not exist. The CBDCOM Fox experts concluded, "because of the presence of high concentrations of interferents and the short time span between these responses, we conclude that the presence of the three chemical warfare compounds is highly unlikely. On the other hand, we cannot with great certainty conclude that they were not present."[118] The National Institute of Standards and Technology also pointed out, "The detection of three quite different agents … is consistent with false indications from a high, variable, and complex background signal."[119] Bruker states the same conclusions somewhat differently: "… it is typical that as you drive through a contaminated area, the intensity of the alarm goes up, reaches a maximum, and then goes down as you leave the area. A single alarm for an agent is not consistent with driving through an area of [chemical warfare agent] contamination."[120] Due to the priorities of breaching operations, the Fox could not stop to take samples, perform M256 tests, or attempt to identify contaminated areas. The absence of these actions precludes confirmation of the presence of chemical warfare agents by other means.

Of the three chemical warfare agents to which the Fox MM-1 alerted (sarin, HQ mustard, and lewisite), only sarin was known to be part of Iraq’s chemical warfare agent inventory. Iraq had mustard agents, but the predominant form of mustard found in Iraq’s weapons was HD mustard—not HQ mustard.[121] HQ mustard is a mixture of 75 percent HD (sulfur mustard) and 25 percent Q (sesqui mustard). According to a chemical warfare agent expert, Iraq did not have Q.[122] Fox experts stated, "If HQ was detected, both HD and Q should have been detected, with the HD being more likely to be detected since it is more volatile than the Q component."[123] The absence of an alert to HD and Q and the absence of Q in Iraq’s inventory adds doubt to the validity of the MM-1 alert to the presence of HQ mustard.

While Iraq did have HD mustard and sarin in its chemical warfare agent inventory, the United Nations Special Commission on Iraq (UNSCOM) did not list lewisite as part of this inventory—there is no other evidence to suggest anything to the contrary.[124] After examining postwar Iraq’s declarations, UNSCOM inspection data, and other information, the Central Intelligence Agency compiled a list of the chemical warfare agents included in Iraq’s Gulf War chemical warfare agent arsenal; lewisite is not on that list.[125]

The commanding officer of the 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, stated that the detection, as reported to him in the NBC report, was a trace amount, and he understood that the Fox did not get a full spectrum readout. He remembered that all personnel in the possibly affected units went to MOPP-4 when the alarm sounded and the battalion NBC officer alerted other units that lane Red 1 may have been contaminated for the first 300 meters.[126] For the next several hours, the 1/6 continued to monitor the condition of lane Red 1.[127] According to the battalion commanding officer, since there were only trace alerts for vapor, no secondary indications of chemical warfare agent attack, no reports from other nearby units, and no injuries or anything else that would substantiate a chemical warfare agent incident, he considered the event a false alarm.[128]

As noted earlier, other possible indications of the presence of chemical warfare agents existed in breaching lane Red 1. According to the Fox crewmen, the M9 tape attached to the exterior of the Fox turned red in spots, indicating the possibility that it was exposed to a liquid chemical warfare agent, for example, lewisite or mustards, primarily liquid hazards.[129] The Fox commander took particular notice because while the Marines’ faces and vehicle exteriors were covered with oil residue, only the M9 paper on one side of the Fox was spotted, while the M9 paper on the other side of the vehicle was not.[130] However, M9 detection paper may show false indications due to numerous interferents, among them heat, petroleum products, smoke, and hydraulic fluid. The breaching environment contained many of these interferents,[131] any of which could have caused the red spots. In addition, it is reasonable to conclude that the chemical agent monitor would have detected traces of a persistent chemical warfare agent on the Fox or other vehicles, had an agent been present in the breaching lane. The Fox and many other vehicles recently had transited an area suspected to be contaminated with lewisite and HQ mustard, both persistent liquid chemical warfare agents. The chemical agent monitor (CAM), however, did not detect any agents on the Fox while in the second minefield, although a persistent chemical warfare agent should have remained on at least some portion of the vehicle had an agent been present.[132] The Fox was not decontaminated at any time during or after the breaching operations.[133]

The CAM was designed to detect chemical warfare agent vapors. When the CAM indicated the 2-bar reading for nerve agent vapor mentioned earlier, it is possible the CAM detected a chemical warfare agent in the equipment pack with the shrapnel hole. However, the CAM is susceptible to alarm for reasons other than the presence of chemical warfare agents. For example, the 1st MARDIV NBC officer noted that the CAM gave a 4-bar reading, an indication of a high vapor concentration,[134] for nerve agent when sampling a Cup-o-Noodles.™[135] Military field manuals note that the CAM may give false readings when used in enclosed spaces or when sampling near strong vapor sources (see the glossary at Tab A for other CAM interferents). The field manuals recommend that the operator experiment in the environment to determine what common items will cause the CAM to respond.[136]

In this case, the CAM detector head was placed inside the pack, and displayed a reading for nerve agent vapor. None of the Marines near the unmasked Marine operating the CAM—nor that Marine himself—was affected by any agent vapor. There were no associated alerts or casualties during this phase of the operation. After the Fox alert and passage through the first minefield, the unit received mortar and artillery fire.[137] However, it is impossible to determine when the shrapnel hole was made in the pack or what the source might have been.

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