This narrative is one in a series of investigations into how the execution of the Desert Storm air campaign against Iraqs weapons of mass destruction facilities may have affected US forces health and welfare. Specifically, it focuses on the question of whether or not Coalition bombing of Muhammadiyat exposed US forces to chemical warfare agents.
The Muhammadiyat (also known as Qubaysah) ammunition storage site, situated approximately 95 miles west of Baghdad, covered close to 12 square miles. Muhammadiyat contained chemical weapons produced at Al Muthanna and also contained an extensive store of conventional munitions. Additionally, Coalition planners believed it was a Scud missile depot.
Coalition planners regarded Iraqs nuclear, biological, and chemical program as a serious threat to Coalition forces and intended to destroy this capability. Although it is unclear whether Coalition planners identified Muhammadiyat as a chemical weapons storage site, they knew it was a conventional ammunition storage site and suspected Scud depot, so Coalition forces repeatedly bombed Muhammadiyat throughout the Gulf War.
In October 1991, inspectors for the United Nations Special Commission on Iraq (UNSCOM) found damaged and destroyed mustard-filled 250-gauge and 500-gauge bombs, as well as damaged sarin-cyclosarin-filled DB-2 bombs, during their inspection of Muhammadiyat. Additionally, the inspectors found several areas of contamination they identified as chemical warfare agent hazard sites. The devastation caused by Coalition bombing complicated the inspection.
We found it difficult to calculate the number of chemical munitions destroyed at Muhammadiyat. We were unable to find an accurate inventory of munitions on hand at Muhammadiyat at the start of the Coalition bombing campaign. Moreover, Iraqs declarations about chemical munitions stored at Muhammadiyat and the number of these munitions that Coalition bombing destroyed varied over time.
Only three United Nations inspection teams visited Muhammadiyat, limiting the accuracy of chemical munitions destruction estimates. The first team performed the initial inspection in 1991. In 1993, a second inspection team was responsible for cleaning up Muhammadiyat, including destroying damaged munitions, and moving filled, stable munitions to Al Muthanna for destruction. Finally, in 1998 a third inspection team visited the site in an unsuccessful attempt to verify Iraqs claim that Coalition bombing destroyed 550 chemical-filled 155mm munitions.
Using Iraqs declarations, United Nations Special Commission inspection information, video, and still photography, and other sources, we believe it likely Coalition bombing released nerve agent. We currently estimate the maximum amount of nerve agent released into the air was 180 kilograms of a mixture of sarin and cyclosarin. Additionally, we believe Coalition bombing released an estimated 2,970 kilograms of mustard blister agent over a period of one hour.
Because the exact location where the bombing occurred is uncertain and the bombing occurred over an extended time, we were unable to pinpoint a specific attack or attacks that released nerve agent. Consequently, on any of 15 days, Coalition aircraft bombing possibly released a sarin-cyclosarin mixture. Because of our inability to confirm a specific date and time, we modeled 17 distinct air strikes occurring on the 15 different days.
We were able to narrow the possible release of mustard agent to three datesFebruary 10, 12, or 16, 1991. Two distinct air strikes occurred on February 16, so we modeled four possible mustard agent releases occurring on three different days.
Our modeling indicates the closest the nerve agent hazard area could have come to US forces in Saudi Arabia occurred on February 6, 1991, with the outer edge of the potential hazard area within 35 miles of a company-size unit in western Saudi Arabia. Similarly, the closest approach of the mustard agent hazard area occurred on February 12, 1991, with the outer edge of the potential hazard area within 125 miles of a company-size unit in western Saudi Arabia.
According to the US Special Operations Command, its personnel operated in Iraq during the Gulf War air campaign on some days when nerve agent could have been released, possibly exposing fewer than 76 of these personnel. With this exception, we assess US forces definitely were not exposed to chemical warfare agents likely released in bombing Muhammadiyat. For these special operations personnel, exposure is indeterminate because we cannot identify their specific locations or the exact chemical warfare agent release date(s).