Pentagon determines that chemical weapons storage at Tallil Air Base "Unlikely"
WASHINGTON, December 3, 1997 (GulfLINK) - In its latest case narrative, the Defense Department assesses whether chemical weapons were stored at Iraq's Tallil Air Base when it was occupied by U.S. troops in the spring of 1991.
Tallil was a major tactical air base in southeastern Iraq and it was occupied by U.S. troops on March 1, 1991, one day after the cease-fire ending the fighting.
The Tallil Case Narrative says U.S. intelligence confirmed that Tallil had contained stocks of chemical munitions during 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war because Iraqi jets that bombed Iranian troops with chemical agents had flown out of Tallil. The report says that one of Iraq's 22 S-shaped bunkers- a type designed for special weapons like chemical agents-had been built at Tallil and was considered a potential chemical storage site during Operation Desert Shield.
After the fighting ended, the case narrative says, U.S. troops inspected the site looking for chemicals weapons and agents. The narrative says troops marked several buildings found to contain chemicals-industrial chemicals and decontaminating solutions, but not chemical weapons or agents.
Interviews indicated that each bunker was checked by chemical warfare and/or explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) personnel trained to recognize CW and technical aids such as the M256A1 chemical detection kit and chemical agent monitors. Two Fox reconnaissance vehicles were also used. Of more than 100 soldiers interviewed who took part in the search and demolition operations at Tallil, only two individuals remembered entering and searching the S-shaped bunker.
Both of these individuals were EOD technicians, who are trained to recognize, handle, and destroy chemical weapons. Both accurately described the bunker as being struck by an aerial munition, which had caused the ceiling to collapse in the center. They physically searched the visible section of the bunker and saw no materials which looked like either conventional or chemical munitions. One of the technicians reported seeing scorching on the walls, but no evidence of a secondary explosion. Neither individual could see or search the area of the bunker which was buried under the collapsed ceiling and debris. Since this bunker had already been seriously damaged, it was not the subject of further demolition efforts.
As part of the conditions imposed by the UN sponsored cease-fire, UN Special Commission (UNSCOM) members visited Tallil to search for chemical weapons, as they did the Khamisiyah and several other ammunition storage sites. In the case of Khamisiyah, the Iraqis publicly declared that they had stored chemical agents there and the UN inspectors found chemical weapons when they arrived. In the case of Tallil, the Iraqis did not declare it to be a chemical storage site and the UN inspectors could not find any chemical weapons. The UN inspectors checked the S-shaped bunker and found the center of the roof caved in. At that time, the Iraqis had a quantity of munitions stocked against the remaining walls, but the UN inspectors said they were conventional, not chemical, weapons.
The Pentagon's Office of the Special Assistant for Gulf War Illnesses (OSAGWI) is assessing the likelihood of the accuracy of chemical warfare reports on a scale ranging from "definitely" through "likely," "indeterminate," "unlikely," down to "definitely not." OSAGWI assessed the probability of chemical agents being present at Tallil Air Base while American troops were there in 1991 as "unlikely."
More than 100 veterans who had performed significant operations at Tallil were interviewed, including EOD personnel, combat engineers who performed hands-on demolition work, NBC officers, and commanding officers. Each individual helped to broaden the knowledge of the events, which allowed a much better assessment than would have been possible otherwise.
All of OSAGWI's case narratives are issued as draft or interim reports. Bernard Rostker, head of OSAGWI, said he hopes individuals with more knowledge about the incidents being reported will be encouraged to come forward and provide more information. OSAGWI plans to send a letter to several thousand U.S. troops who were at Tallil between February 27 and April 1991. This letter will include a summary of the Tallil case narrative and a request for further information from individuals who had relevant eyewitness experiences. Veterans who have additional information are encouraged to call the Gulf War incident hotline at 1-800-472-6719. The interim report will be revised if more evidence surfaces. The report will be reissued and the assessments adjusted, as the evidence warrants.