The Cease-Fire and Occupation of Tallil

After the cease-fire went into effect during the morning hours of February 28, 1991, a psychological operations plan was developed by units of the 82nd Airborne Division to convince the Iraqi soldiers still occupying Tallil to vacate the area to the northwest or surrender without resistance.[18] The plan worked. On March 1 and 2, 1991, units of the 82nd Airborne took control of the base without major incident. Units of the 82nd—including the 504th and 505th Parachute Infantry Regiments and other subordinate units (TAB B)—occupied the base and started the long process of identifying munitions and other materiel to be destroyed before the departure of US forces. While many small infantry units performed impromptu demolition of fighting trenches, personnel bunkers, arms caches, and vehicles, most of the systematic demolition of large quantities of munitions and major facilities was performed by C Company, 307th Engineering Battalion, with the technical advice and support of the 60th Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Detachment. When the 82nd units rotated out of the area on approximately March 24, 1991, they were replaced by the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment and the 84th Engineering Company.[19]

Many of the facilities at Tallil, especially hardened aircraft shelters, had already been hit by Precision Guided Munitions (TAB E). Some of these attacks destroyed the facilities and their contents in place, while others initiated secondary explosions, scattering material and debris for considerable distances. Large areas of the base had also been seeded with US aerial mines (nicknamed ‘gators’) to impede movement of aircraft and vehicles on the airfield’s parking aprons, taxiways, and runways. One of the highest priorities of local US commanders was to identify hazardous areas: the two primary concerns were potential chemical weapons (CW) sites and unexploded ordnance. CW personnel from the 82nd Airborne Division conducted CW search operations with a full range of CW detection equipment (including two Fox reconnaissance vehicles), while the 60th EOD identified and neutralized most of the US and Iraqi unexploded ordnance.[20]

Search for Chemical Weapons

A March 23, 1991, message from the 82nd Airborne Division chemical officer to the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment chemical officer summarizes the search for chemical weapons at Tallil: When the 82nd occupied the sector, Fox vehicles and unit reconnaissance teams checked for CW and CW contamination, but found none.[21] They checked the air base and marked the buildings with spray paint during the clearing process. They marked several buildings "chem," but these contained NBC protective equipment (gas masks, filters, suits, antidotes, etc.), decontaminates, or industrial chemicals—not chemical weapons.[22] Interviews with a Brigade-level chemical officer of the 82nd and a Fox vehicle crew member operating at Tallil confirmed this message summary. Because the Fox vehicle was too big to enter the bunkers, the search teams used hand-held testing systems—including the M256 Chemical Agent Detection Kit and Chemical Agent Monitors—to check the bunker interiors, but they found no chemical weapons or agents.[23]

A member of the US Army’s 60th EOD searched the S-shaped bunker that might have contained chemical weapons. For safety reasons, it was standard procedure for EOD personnel to clear facilities before other personnel entered, so it is likely that he was the first person to enter this bunker. A bomb had partially collapsed the roof into the main storage area and numerous anti-personnel and anti-vehicle mines were scattered through this area,[24] so it is unlikely that other non-EOD individuals would have entered this bunker for ‘sightseeing’ purposes.

To penetrate reinforced concrete bunkers, the US Air Force uses a laser guided, 2,000-pound general purpose bomb known as the BLU-109.[25] This weapon’s hardened steel casing allows it to penetrate several feet of earthen cover and reinforced concrete before detonating. When detonation occurs within a confined space, like a reinforced concrete bunker, the blast and a portion of the bunker’s contents are blown through the doors, ventilation ducts, and the bomb’s entry hole. If the contents are flammable or explosive, a secondary explosion usually results, which in most cases will completely destroy the bunker and its contents. If the bunker contains nothing flammable or explosive, the structure will often survive partially or even completely intact structurally, even though some of its contents may have been severely damaged or destroyed. Depending on the type and quantity of items stored in a bunker, the size of the bunker, and the entry angle and fusing of the weapon, it is possible for some of a bunker’s contents to survive the penetration and detonation of a BLU-109.

Of the more than 100 veterans interviewed during this investigation who had conducted significant operations (i.e., searched bunkers or conducted demolition operations) at Tallil, only two EOD technicians (one US Army, one US Air Force) were located who could identify the location of the S-shaped bunker, its external characteristics, and internal contents. The 60th EOD technician who searched the S-shaped bunker did not report seeing any items that resembled either conventional or chemical munitions. He found only debris and rubble, and scorching from the BLU-109 detonation. He found no evidence of a secondary explosion, which there probably would have been if the bunker had been used to store conventional munitions. He also saw no evidence that material of any kind was stored in the bunker at the time it was struck, although it is possible that material could have been buried under the partially collapsed ceiling.[26] The only other member of the 60th EOD team at Tallil did not enter this bunker, so he could not confirm the report of the contents of the bunker, but he reported that he did not see any CW during his work on this installation.[27] The 60th EOD incident journal confirms the statements of these technicians; it does not list any CW being found at Tallil.[28]

The USAF EOD technician who entered the S-shaped bunker also found no evidence of CW. He described the bunker as being seriously damaged with large chunks of concrete present and the roof collapsed. He reported seeing no CW in the bunker’s exposed area, nor did he report seeing either CW residue or liquids. This technician also checked other Tallil storage bunkers without finding any chemical weapons, but did remember seeing CW-associated equipment such as protective equipment and antidote kits in bulk quantities, which were present in most of the bunkers he inspected.[29]

Demolition Activities

The Combat Engineers who assisted the 60th EOD in destroying facilities and munitions were primarily from B and C Companies, 307th Engineering Battalion, with the former having a limited role because of other duties. More than 25 engineers from C Company have been interviewed, including platoon leaders, the executive officer, and the 307th Engineering Battalion Commander. Destroying captured munitions is not normally part of the Combat Engineer Military Occupational Specialty (MOS), but because of the large quantities at Tallil, EOD personnel gave the Engineers on-the-job training and put them to work rigging explosives. During interviews with C Company Engineers, they consistently reported that they rigged no CW munitions and had no first-hand knowledge of CW being discovered at Tallil.[30] The Commander of the 307th Engineering Battalion was physically present at Tallil from approximately March 3-10, 1991. The day before his arrival, he remembers receiving a division intelligence report of a probable chemical facility at Tallil. He remembers receiving no other specific CW warnings. He and his subordinates did not wear CW protective gear while at Tallil since the facility had already been cleared by 82nd CW personnel.[31] The Engineer and EOD teams destroyed army conventional munitions like small arms ammunition, mortar rounds, anti-tank rockets, artillery rockets, artillery rounds, anti-aircraft artillery rounds, tank ammunition, and explosives.[32] They also destroyed aircraft munitions like general purpose bombs, cluster munitions, incendiary bombs, unguided rockets, air-to-air, and air-to-ground missiles.[33] A 307th Engineering Battalion operations summary reported that they also destroyed 18 MiG aircraft. No CW items were listed.[34]

While the 307th Engineers and the 60th EOD performed the majority of bunker demolition work at Tallil, several other units were also involved. USAF Red Horse civil engineering teams used approximately 80,000 pounds of explosives to make cuts in the runways and taxiways every 2,000 feet.[35] USAF EOD technicians from the 1703rd and 4404th EOD Detachments were also there. In addition to destroying unexploded ordnance, they identified specific air-to-air and air-to-ground ordnance for shipment to rear areas. Investigators interviewed several of these individuals, including the 1703rd EOD commander; none of them saw any chemical weapons.[36] Organized demolition operations by units of the 82nd Airborne began on March 2, 1991, and continued through approximately March 23, 1991.

On approximately March 24, 1991, units of the 82nd Airborne (including the 307th Engineering Battalion and the 60th EOD Detachment) rotated out of the area and were replaced by the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment and its supporting units, which included the 84th Engineering Company and the 146th EOD Detachment.[37] The logs of the 146th indicate that the new units continued to destroy substantial quantities of munitions and that demolition operations at Tallil and the nearby An Nasiriyah SW Ammunition Storage Point (ASP) continued into April 1991.[38] In an interview with the commander of the 146th EOD, he stated that he supervised the destruction of large quantities of Army and Air Force ordnance, bunkers, aircraft, and facilities, but he did not observe any CW.[39] The Tallil S-shaped bunker that was successfully attacked during the air war was not further demolished.[40]

None of the individuals interviewed in this investigation reported experiencing medical symptoms associated with nerve or blister agent poisoning, nor did they seek medical attention because of contact with a suspected chemical warfare agent during demolition operations at Tallil. While several individuals interviewed reported that they encountered possible CW,[41] their visual identifications were based on observed munitions color schemes like yellow or red bands, which were not reliable indicators of CW. None of these individuals reported experiencing any chemical agent symptoms after being in the vicinity, of or in contact with, munitions with these markings. One individual from the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment reported in an interview that he became very nauseous and dizzy after being exposed to a white powder in a can while removing equipment and weapons from a Tallil warehouse. The inhaled substance caused him to vomit immediately, but the nausea only lasted one to three hours and was not severe. He did not report this incident or seek medical attention at the time it occurred, and he did not report any lasting effects from this incident.[42] The unidentified powder could have been a number of different compounds, including a riot control agent, but the specific circumstances related during the interview make a follow-up determination impossible. At any rate, these symptoms are not indicative of exposure to any of the chemical warfare gents assessed to be in Iraq’s inventory.

Activity after US Occupation

Approximately 18 months passed between the withdrawal of US forces from the Tallil area and the inspection of the Tallil S-shaped bunker by United Nations (UN) CW technical experts. During this period, Iraq attempted to salvage material, equipment, and facilities at Tallil for further use by the Iraqi military. On December 8, 1992, a UN Special Commission (UNSCOM) chemical and biological weapons inspection team inspected Tallil airfield. The team found nothing there relating to UN Security Council Resolution 687 (which addresses "weapons of mass destruction"—including chemical weapons).[43] At the S-shaped bunker, they saw the heavy bomb damage from Desert Storm. Although the center roof section was collapsed, the side panel roof sections were intact, leaving room to maneuver within the bunker on either side of the collapsed center section.[44] The interior contents were described in the report as follows:

The bunker contained at least 30 crated FAB-500 high explosive (HE) aerial bombs as well as at least 8 gray packing crates (1x1.5 meters). No vehicular access through the bunker was possible, since the bomb/crate storage blocked the thoroughfare. One crate was split open, and paper wrapping was noted at one corner; the contents were not observed. Markings were noted on the side. Numerous copies of shipping documents were scattered on the floor. Yellow "end labels" for crates for FAB-500 and FAB-250 bombs were also found. A hand-written note in Arabic described the symptoms for nerve agent poisoning. Comments: The S-shaped bunker is designed for special weapon storage; however, no typical western method for chemical agent/weapon storage was noted outside of the sump. Iraq did not conform to western methods at its Samarra chemical weapon cruciform bunkers. Since the bunker was available for storage, the Iraqis probably placed FAB-500/250 HE aerial bombs in it for storage and would have probably removed them if special weapons were brought there.[45]

On July 29, 1997, in Buffalo, NY, two representatives of UNSCOM testified about Tallil’s S-shaped bunker at a hearing of the Presidential Advisory Committee for Gulf War Veteran’s Illnesses. They reported that they believed that Iraq deployed chemical weapons in January 1991, only to four depots (none of which was Tallil) and back to areas near Baghdad.[46] In response to a later question, they clarified that nothing was found at Tallil:

MR. MITROKHIN (UNSCOM): ... UNSCOM inspected, of course, Nasiriyah munitions depot, Khamisiyah ammunition depot, Tallil Air Field in 1992 and also underground storage bunkers which is entry number 12 on your list. This was inspected in 1994. The results of following inspections at Nasiriyah and Khamisiyah ammunition depots are well-known and we briefed the committee on these results. Concerning Tallil Air Field and underground storage bunkers which appeared to be the stores of metal missiles were inspected and no evidence of chemical weapons found there.

DR. PORTER (PAC): Let, let me understand. There were four sites of the 17 that UNSCOM visited.

MR. MITROKHIN (UNSCOM): That is correct.

DR. PORTER (PAC): And of course one was Khamisiyah, we know the Khamisiyah story, but at the other three sites, the inspection revealed no evidence of chemical weapons or damage.

MR. MITROKHIN (UNSCOM): Actually, yes. As it was explained by Mr. Duelfer, 155 mm. shells were removed from Nasiriyah ammunition depot prior to UNSCOM arrival and later on these were found in the vicinity of the Khamisiyah ammunition depot in the desert area. Concerning two remaining sites, Tallil Air Field and underground storage bunkers, no evidence of chemical weapons were found there.[47]

After the departure of US forces from Iraq, this UN inspection is the only known on-site examination of the internal condition and contents of Tallil’s S-shaped bunker.

In 1996, Iraq presented to UNSCOM a document known as the Full, Final, and Complete Disclosure on their CW program.[48] This document listed the specific types of CW in the Iraqi inventory and their location during the 1991 time period. Tallil Air Base is not listed in this document as a CW storage site.

ASSESSMENT

Although the Iraqis flew chemical warfare missions out of Tallil air base during the Iran-Iraq War—and probably stored chemical weapons for these missions in the base’s S-shaped bunker—occupying forces at the conclusion of the Gulf War found no chemical weapons or chemical agent contamination there. Due to pre-war briefings that Iraqi CW were painted certain colors or marked with color bands, some interviewed individuals believed that they had discovered, reported, or destroyed Iraqi CW. However, post-war assessments of Iraq’s CW program confirmed that this identification method was totally unreliable. Instead interviews with EOD personnel indicated that they relied on specific munitions design characteristics to identify CW, but that no system by itself was considered 100 percent accurate. Hence the use of multiple methods to identify and/or confirm the presence of CW.

Chemical weapons (CW) specialists used various chemical detection equipment at Tallil Air Base and found nothing. EOD personnel and others with direct knowledge of CW characteristics saw nothing to indicate the presence of CW. Demolition crews that destroyed munitions, equipment, and structures at the base also discovered no chemical weapons. However, their extensive searches did turn up significant quantities of CW-associated defensive gear like masks, suits, antidotes, and decontaminates, but this was expected based on Tallil’s history during the Iran-Iraq war. These first-hand observations, the reconnaissance of the area by chemical personnel, and intelligence reporting indicate that it is unlikely that either chemical warfare agents or chemical weapons were stored in the S-shaped bunker or on the base at the time of the US occupation.

The UNSCOM team that inspected Tallil and its S-shaped bunker in December 1992 did not find evidence of chemical weapons or bulk agents. However, it is important to note that neither the US occupation forces nor the UNSCOM team were able to inspect the portion of the S-shaped bunker where the ceiling had collapsed. Nor could they examine any materials buried under the remaining debris. After the war, the Iraqis cleared the intact area of the bunker of rubble and used it for conventional munitions storage. If the Iraqis were storing chemical weapons or agents in this facility at the time it was struck during the war, the resulting contamination would almost certainly have forced the Iraqis to completely remove all bunker debris, extensively decontaminate the area, and then rebuild before using the bunker for conventional storage. This was not done. In addition, Tallil was not listed as a CW storage site in the Full, Final, and Complete Disclosure provided to the UNSCOM in 1996. Based on these facts and the lack of any US reports of chemical warfare agent detections or chemical warfare agent injuries, our assessment is that it is unlikely that chemical weapons or agents were present at Tallil Air Base during the period of US occupation in 1991.

This case is still being investigated. As additional information becomes available, it will be incorporated. If you have records, photographs, recollections, or find errors in the details reported, please contact the DOD Persian Gulf Task Force Hot Line at 1-800-472-6719.


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