OSAGWI team briefs Presidential Advisory Committee in Buffalo

BUFFALO, N.Y., August 27, 1997 (GulfLINK) — The Office of the Special Assistant for Gulf War Illnesses (OSAGWI) has briefed the Presidential Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses on the progress of OSAGWI’s investigations into possible chemical incidents during the Gulf War.

This meeting took place July 29 and 30 in Buffalo, New York, one in a series of regular meetings held by the PAC around the country.

OSAGWI staffers updated the PAC on the current status of investigations into possible chemical incidents at Khamisiyah, Iraq, Al Jaber Air Base in Kuwait, and Tallil Air Base in Iraq, as well bringing the PAC progress reports on several other investigations.

Dr. Bernard Rostker, the special assistant for Gulf War illnesses, provided an overview of the DoD and CIA modeling efforts related to the demolitions at of the "pit" area at Khamisiyah, Iraq in March 1991. These demolition modeling efforts demonstrated that a plume may have exposed almost 99,000 U.S. troops to very low levels of sarin, a chemical nerve agent. A description of the methods and results of this modeling related to Khamisiyah has recently been published. Rostker was accompanied on his Buffalo trip by Mr. Robert Walpole of the Central Intelligence Agency, and two OSAGWI staff, Colonel Larry Cereghino and Dr. Rick Babarsky, all of whom have been intensely involved in the Khamisiyah modeling efforts.

Lt. Col. Dee Dodson Morris, deputy director of the Investigative and Analysis Directorate, presented the first public descriptions of the ongoing OSAGWI investigations of possible chemical incidents at Al Jaber Air Base and Tallil Air Base.

There were seven chemical alerts at Al Jaber Air Base on February 24 and 25, 1991, including one Fox vehicle alert for mustard agent. Several interviews have been conducted with crew members of the Fox vehicle, the unit command staff, nuclear/biological/chemical (NBC) personnel, and explosive ordinance disposal (EOD) personnel who later cleared munitions from the Al Jaber area.

The presence of chemical weapons (CW) at Al Jaber has not been confirmed to date, because no CW munitions were found at or near the air base. But interviews with personnel from several units located near Al Jaber are continuing.

Tallil Air Base in Iraq is being investigated because there may have been CW stored in a single S-shaped bunker there. This bunker was destroyed in January 1991 by the bombing during the air war. Operational reports, unit logs, and intelligence reports have been reviewed. NBC personnel, EOD personnel, combat engineers, infantry personnel, and unit commanders have been interviewed. Evidence to date indicated that Tallil munitions bunkers contained a large variety of munitions types, but no CW. Additional interviews and unit records are being sought.

Anne Rathmell Davis, director of the Investigative and Analysis Directorate, updated the PAC on investigations dealing with several reported chemical incidents. These investigations included Marine Breaching, Al Jubayl, 11th Marines, Ammunition Storage Point/Orchard, and the Edgewood tapes. Case narratives for Marine Breaching and Al Jubayl have recently been published. the other three investigations are ongoing.

Davis also outlined the strategy used by OSAGWI to identify and prioritize additional possible CW incidents to investigate. These include reports of possible CW-related injuries, reports of positive detections by M256 kits and Fox vehicles, and reports of suspected CW storage sites.

The criteria for prioritizing these new investigations include factors such as whether there appears to be a significant event or a pattern; completeness of preliminary information; and commonality with other events.

In addition to OSAGWI staff, several other witnesses provided testimony at the PAC hearing in Buffalo, including: Mary Pendergast of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA); Charles Duefler and Igor Mitrokhin of the United Nations; David Trump of DoD Health Affairs; and Robert Walpole of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).