The Office of the Special Assistant for Gulf War Illnesses published an interim case narrative, US Marine Corps Minefield Breaching, in July 1991. Following publication of that interim narrative, we received additional information from veterans and recommendations from the General Accounting Office (see Tab H). The case narrative that follows updates the original report, responds to those comments, and contains the result of additional research, including interviews with veterans and consultation with medical subject matter experts.

In the early morning of February 24, 1991, US Marine Corps forces began the liberation of Kuwait by breaching (clearing paths through) Iraqi minefields that stretched across southern Kuwait to engage Iraqi ground forces. From these breaching operations came accounts of incidents that described possible chemical warfare agent detections and possible chemical warfare agent exposures at different locations on the battlefield.

In post-war congressional and other public testimony, Gunnery Sergeant George Grass, the Marine in command of an XM93 Fox Nuclear, Biological, Chemical Reconnaissance Vehicle assigned to Task Force Ripper (7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division) reported that the mobile mass spectrometer aboard his Fox indicated the presence of what he identified as a trace of nerve agent vapor. He testified that the amount of vapor present was not enough to cause casualties, and he reported this finding to the Task Force Ripper nuclear, biological, chemical officer. This officer judged that even if an agent had been present, the trace amount reported by Gunnery Sergeant Grass would not have been harmful to troops moving rapidly through the breaches, and therefore, he did not warn 1st Marine Division units. Despite traveling through the minefield breaches unprotected from nerve agent vapor (with faces and hands exposed), no troops reported any chemical warfare agent exposure effects. No samples were taken, and no evidence of chemical warfare agent presence exists. Fox experts consulted for this case noted that in the mode in which the mobile mass spectrometer was operating, chemical warfare agent exposure casualties and fatalities to unprotected, exposed Marines would have occurred before the mobile mass spectrometer could indicate the presence of nerve agent vapor. For these reasons, the assessment for this incident is that the presence of chemical warfare agents in the 1st Marine Division breaching lanes is unlikely.

In a 2d Marine Division breaching lane (called lane Red 1), a Fox assigned to the 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, alerted its crew to the possible presence of three chemical warfare agents—sarin, lewisite, and HQ mustard. Other possible indications of the presence of chemical warfare agents in this breaching lane came from a chemical agent monitor, M9 chemical warfare agent detector paper, and reports of chemical warfare agent injuries. Personnel in the area of the possible contamination took protective measures and continued their assault through the minefield breaches. The Fox could not stop to complete testing procedures, but a Fox crewman attempted to analyze an air sample with the mobile mass spectrometer. Experts from separate agencies analyzed the data printed automatically to a hard-copy tape and, although they could not completely rule out the presence of chemical warfare agents, the experts concluded that these alerts were most likely false positives, caused by the high concentration of airborne hydrocarbons from oil well fires and vehicle exhaust. Additionally, Iraq’s chemical warfare agent inventory did not contain two of the three agents to which the Fox mobile mass spectrometer alerted. The chemical agent monitor and M9 chemical warfare agent detector paper indicated the possible presence of chemical warfare agents, but these detectors are subject to numerous interferents. Uncorroborated by additional tests or confirmed injuries, their indications do not prove the presence of chemical warfare agents.

2d Marine Division Marines were briefed to expect a chemical attack, and information available to them at the time led them to expect the presence of landmines filled with chemical warfare agents (hereafter referred to as chemical mines). Many witnesses thought that the source of the reported chemical warfare agents was chemical mines, while others suggested enemy artillery as the source. The United Nations Special Commission on Iraq and the US intelligence community do not now believe that Iraq had chemical mines in its chemical weapons inventory. Based on a review of Iraq’s chemical weapons capability, unit logs, and witness’ testimony, we found no evidence to indicate that other possible delivery means (such as rocket or artillery fire) were the source of the suspected agents.

A report that chemical warfare blister agents injured two Marines in lane Red 1 appeared in a Marine Corps historical document. We identified four possible chemical warfare agent injuries to Marines in 2d Marine Division units. The doctor who examined the first Marine on the battlefield in 1991 reported that the Marine was not injured. However, witnesses provided conflicting accounts regarding the Marine’s condition, so we consulted a medical expert (physician) in chemical warfare agent injuries. This physician found that despite what this Marine experienced, chemical warfare agents were unlikely causes. A medical corpsman examined the second Marine and did not believe that chemical warfare agents caused an irritation on this Marine’s face. A third Marine, reportedly injured by chemical warfare agents, told us that chemical warfare agents did not injure him. We continue to search for information related to a fourth possible chemical warfare agent injury, but thus far, chemical warfare agent exposure does not seem to be the case. These incidents were random; the four Marines were in different locations on the battlefield, and other Marines, in the immediate vicinity of those reportedly injured, were unaffected—none reported any chemical warfare agent exposure symptoms.

In assessing the possible presence of the three suspected chemical warfare agents, we examined witness testimony, the Fox mobile mass spectrometer alert, information provided by mobile mass spectrometer experts, information from the intelligence community, and information from the United Nations Special Commission on Iraq. Experts concluded that the mobile mass spectrometer alerts were most likely false alarms. Other chemical warfare agent detector indications of possible agent presence remain uncorroborated and are unsupported by evidence. There is also a lack of evidence to indicate that artillery, rockets, or chemical mines were the source of the suspected chemical warfare agents. Finally, medical experts evaluated that the injuries reported are not indicative of chemical warfare agent exposure. Based on an examination of all evidence, the presence of chemical warfare agents in the 2d Marine Division breaching lane is assessed as unlikely.

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