D. Continuing Operations

One of the US commanders’ highest priorities at Tallil Air Base was to identify hazardous areas: of primary concern were potential chemical warfare munitions sites and unexploded ordnance. Nuclear, biological, and chemical (NBC) defense personnel from the 82nd Airborne Division searched for chemical warfare agents with a full range of chemical warfare agent detection equipment, including two Fox vehicles, while the 60th EOD identified and neutralized US and Iraqi unexploded ordnance.[27]

1. Search for Chemical Warfare Munitions

A March 23, 1991 message from the 82nd Airborne Division chemical officer to the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment chemical officer summarizing the search for chemical warfare munitions and agents at Tallil relayed this information:

When the 82nd Airborne Division occupied the sector, Fox vehicles and unit reconnaissance teams checked for evidence of contamination or chemical weapons. No contamination was found.

Buildings at Tallil were marked, in English, with spray paint during the clearing process. The bldgs [buildings] have been checked. There are several buildings marked "chem." They contain NBC equipment [gas masks, filters, suits, antidotes, etc.], decontaminants, or industrial chemicals. No toxic chemicals.[28]

Interviews with an 82nd Airborne Division brigade-level chemical officer[29] and a Fox vehicle crewmember[30] 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 chemical warfare agents.[31]

One specialist of the two-member 60th EOD Detachment’s team supporting the 307th Engineer Battalion searched the S-shaped bunker that might have contained chemical weapons. For safety reasons, the standard procedure was for EOD technicians to clear facilities before other soldiers entered, so it is likely that he was the first person to enter this bunker.[32] Numerous anti-personnel and anti-vehicle mines littered the outside area of the bunker and a bomb had partially collapsed the roof into the main storage area,[33] so it is unlikely that other non-EOD soldiers would have entered this bunker.[34]

During this investigation, we interviewed more than 100 veterans who had searched bunkers or conducted demolition operations at Tallil, but we located only two EOD technicians (the one from the Army 60th EOD and one from the US Air Force 4404th EOD) who could identify the S-shaped bunker’s location, its external characteristics, and internal contents. The 60th EOD technician who searched the S-shaped bunker did not report seeing any items resembling either conventional or chemical warfare munitions in the bunker. He found only debris, rubble, and scorching from the BLU-109 detonation, not any evidence of a secondary explosion, which probably would have occurred had the bunker stored conventional munitions. He also saw no evidence that material of any kind was stored in the bunker when it was struck, although it is possible that the partially collapsed ceiling could have buried material.[35] The other 60th EOD team member at Tallil did not enter this bunker, so he could not confirm the report of the bunker’s contents, but he reported that he did not see any chemical warfare munitions during his work on this installation.[36] The 60th EOD incident journal confirms these technicians’ statements in that it does not relate finding any chemical warfare munitions at Tallil; however, the incident journal does identify a single suspected chemical warfare shell on March 7, 1991, at the coordinates, PV162247, which is several kilometers east of the An Nasiriyah SW ASP. As indicated in the incident journal entry, Fox vehicles detected no chemical warfare agents on the split-in-half shell or in the area near the coordinate.[37]

The Air Force EOD technician who entered the S-shaped bunker also found no evidence of chemical weapons. His mission was to ensure that this particular bunker did not contain chemical warfare munitions or agents. He described the bunker as being damaged with large chunks of concrete present and the roof collapsed. He reported that he saw no chemical warfare munitions or chemical warfare agent residue or liquids in the bunker’s undamaged area. This technician also checked other Tallil storage bunkers, where he found no chemical munitions, but he did remember seeing equipment associated with chemical warfare such as protective equipment and bulk quantities of antidote kits which were in most of the bunkers he inspected.[38]

2. Demolition Activities

On March 2, 1991, the 82nd Airborne Division units began organized demolition operations, which continued through March 20, 1991.[39] The combat engineers who assisted the 60th EOD in destroying facilities and munitions were primarily from B and C companies, 307th Engineer Battalion, with the former having a limited role because of other duties. We interviewed more than 25 engineers from C Company, 307th Engineer Battalion, including platoon leaders, the executive officer, and the 307th Engineer Battalion commander. Destroying captured munitions is not normally a common task of a combat engineer, but because of the large numbers of Tallil bunkers containing munitions, EOD personnel got assistance from the combat engineers to set demolition charges and gave the engineers on-the-job training. Though two engineers from the 307th Engineer Battalion[40] said that they encountered possible chemical warfare munitions, they had based their munitions’ identifications on visual observations of color schemes, such as yellow or red bands. However, the senior 60th EOD technician said, "they could recognize chemical warfare agent capable munitions by filler plugs, double walled construction, thin skin, and color (two yellow bands) even though it was taken for granted that chemical warfare munitions may not be marked or marked inconsistently (making the marking schemes an unreliable indicator of chemical warfare munitions.)[41] Additionally, during interviews, the C Company, 307th Engineer Battalion executive officer[42] and platoon leaders[43] consistently reported that they prepared no chemical warfare munitions for destruction and had no first-hand knowledge of any chemical warfare agents discovered at Tallil. The 307th Engineer Battalion commander was present at Tallil from March 3-10, 1991. He remembers receiving a division intelligence report the day before his arrival of a probable chemical facility there. He remembers receiving no other chemical warfare warnings. While at Tallil, he and his subordinates did not wear chemical protective clothing because 82nd NBC specialists already had cleared the facility.[44] The engineers and EOD teams destroyed conventional army munitions: small arms ammunition, mines, mortar rounds, anti-tank rockets, artillery rounds and rockets, anti-aircraft artillery rounds, tank ammunition, and conventional explosives. They also destroyed aircraft munitions (e.g., general-purpose bombs, cluster munitions, incendiary bombs, unguided rockets, and air-to-air and air-to-ground missiles.[45] The 307th Engineer Battalion operations summary reported that they also destroyed 18 aircraft, but listed no chemical warfare items on the summary.[46]

While the 307th Engineer Battalion and the 60th EOD performed most of the bunker demolition work at Tallil, several other units were also present. US Air Force EOD technicians from the 1703rd and 4404th EOD Flights destroyed unexploded ordnance and identified specific air-to-air and air-to-ground ordnance for shipment to rear areas. Investigators interviewed several of these technicians, including the 1703rd EOD commander. One of the EOD technicians said he initially had thought he had encountered some chemical munitions because they were gray with red bands, but on closer examination he realized they had no filler plugs so he determined he did not encounter any chemical munitions.[47] None of the other 1703rd technicians saw or heard anything about chemical weapons.[48] Additionally, US Air Force civil engineering teams (Red Horse) used approximately 80,000 pounds of explosives to cut the runways and taxiways every 2,000 feet.[49]

No one interviewed in this investigation reported experiencing symptoms associated with nerve or blister agent poisoning, nor did they seek medical attention because of contact with a suspected chemical warfare agent during Tallil demolition operations. In an interview, one soldier from the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment reported that, while removing equipment and weapons from a Tallil warehouse, he became very nauseated and dizzy after exposure to a white powder in a can. The inhaled substance caused him to vomit immediately, but the nausea lasted only one to three hours and was not severe. He did not report this incident or seek medical attention when it occurred and reported no lasting effects from this incident. The unidentified powder could have been one of several compounds, including a riot control agent, but the specific circumstances the 505th soldier related in the interview several years after the fact without any supporting physical evidence make a follow-up determination impossible.[50] Regardless, these symptoms do not correspond to exposure to any of the chemical warfare agents assessed to be in Iraq’s inventory.

3. Transition to 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment

On March 24, 1991, the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment, including its supporting units (particularly the 84th Engineer Company and 146th EOD Detachment) replaced the 82nd Airborne Division and its supporting units, the 307th Engineer Battalion and 60th EOD Detachment, who rotated out of the area.[51] The 146th EOD incident journal indicates that they continued to destroy substantial quantities of munitions and that demolition operations at Tallil and the nearby An Nasiriyah SW ASP continued into April 1991.[52] In an interview, the 146th EOD Detachment commander stated that he supervised destroying large quantities of air and land ordnance, bunkers, aircraft, and facilities, but he did not observe any chemical warfare munitions.[53]

E.  Activity after US Occupation

Approximately 18 months after US forces withdrew from the Tallil area, United Nations chemical warfare technical experts inspected the S-shaped bunker there. During this 18 months interval, Iraq attempted to salvage material, equipment, and facilities at Tallil for further military use. On December 8, 1992, a United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) chemical and biological weapons inspection team inspected Tallil airfield. The team found nothing falling under the purview of United Nations Security Council Resolution 687, which addresses weapons of mass destruction, including chemical weapons. [54] At the S-shaped bunker, they saw the heavy bomb damage from Desert Storm. Although the center section’s roof had collapsed, the side roof sections were intact, leaving room to maneuver inside the bunker on either side of the collapsed center section.  The report described the interior contents 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. … 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.[55]

On July 29, 1997, in Buffalo, NY, two UNSCOM representatives testified about Tallil’s S-shaped bunker at a hearing of the Presidential Advisory Committee (PAC) for Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses. They reported that they believed Iraq deployed chemical weapons in January 1991 to four depots only, none of which was Tallil, and back to areas near Baghdad. In response to a question, they clarified that they found nothing at Tallil:[56]

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.

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

In May 1996, Iraq gave UNSCOM an update to the "Full, Final, and Complete Disclosure" document on its chemical warfare program as it existed in 1991. UNSCOM incorporated the update into an inspection report. This update listed Iraq’s inventory of chemical warfare munitions by specific types, quantities, and locations. This document does not include Tallil Air Base as a chemical warfare munitions storage site.[57]

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