OSAGWI investigating chemical
weapon incident reports

Washington, September 9, 1997 (GulfLINK) -- The Department of Defense ( DoD) is engaged in a comprehensive investigation of Gulf War operations to better understand the illnesses of Gulf War veterans. These efforts involve identifying what happened before, during, and after the war to determine how incidents and practices relate to various potential causes of illnesses. The Office of the Special Assistant for Gulf War Illnesses (OSAGWI) is the lead in these DoD investigations.

Extensive research and analysis goes into the investigative process. The DoD uses a methodology for investigation based upon the United Nations protocol for chemical weapons verification. Methods include interviews with key military personnel, examination of thousands of pages of original source documents for review of war operations, communication with veterans to obtain eyewitness information that would strengthen the investigation and analysis, as well as inter-agency information exchange to identify new avenues of investigation.

With the passage of time since the Gulf War and the lack of physical evidence collected at the time of an event, information gathered from various sources may be contradictory. So, DoD has developed an assessment scale ranging from "Definitely" to "Definitely Not" with intermediate assessments of "Likely", "Unlikely," and "Indeterminate" to classify the presence of chemical warfare agents at the time of an incident. The investigation’s final product is a case narrative designed to inform the American public of the specific details describing each Gulf War incident.

"If we can’t explain what went on in the Gulf," noted Dr. Rostker, special assistant for Gulf War illnesses when commenting on the process, "then we will have a very poor ability to put in place those military doctrine and medical policies and procedures that would allow us to avoid these kinds of problems in the future."

Each narrative is considered an interim report, and is intended to open up a dialogue with Gulf War veterans in order to gain additional information that will help DoD more accurately understand key events. The Khamisiyah narrative, released on February 25, 1997 outlined the story of the demolition of the Khamisiyah ammunition storage facility in southern Iraq in March of 1991. It specifically discusses the demolition of munitions by U.S. forces and the subsequent United Nations Special Commission inspections and later public inquiry into the events. Since its publication, the investigation team has learned much more about the Khamisiyah event.

On May 22, 1997, the DoD released the Camp Monterey case narrative. This narrative focuses on the reported detection of a chemical agent at a base camp in Kuwait on September 16, 1991. A few soldiers experienced eye irritation after being exposed to a chemical powder spill. Two Fox NBC ( nuclear, biological, chemical ) reconnaissance vehicles initially identified the powder as sarin nerve agent, when they performed the first tentative analysis. When each vehicle performed complete spectrum analyses, both vehicles definitely identified the powder as CS, a riot control agent. Additionally, analysis by three expert laboratories provided further review and confirmed the presence of CS, not sarin.


On July 24, the modeling results of the plume caused by the Khamisiyah demolitions were published. DoD and CIA officials announced that nearly 99,000 service members were possibly exposed to a very low level of nerve agent vaporized during the weapons destruction. The analysis indicates that no U.S. units were close enough to the demolitions to experience any noticeable health effects at the time of the incident. While little is known about delayed effects from this type of low-level exposure, current medical evidence indicates that long term health problems are unlikely.

When the findings were released, Rostker stressed that the investigation of Khamisiyah did not end with this latest announcement. "We have several investigations ongoing and welcome any information people have which will contribute to our efforts," he said. "Much of what we know about incidents like Khamisiyah is directly related to information we’ve received from Gulf veterans." An update of the narrative is scheduled later this year.

The Department of Defense released the U.S. Marine Corps Minefield Breaching narrative on July 29, 1997. This report describes two incidents of possible chemical detection during the 1st and 2nd Marine Divisions’ breaching operations through two minefields in southern Kuwait on the morning of February 24, 1991. The first reported chemical agent incident occurred in the 1st Marine Division when a Fox reconnaissance vehicle made what was identified as a "trace" detection. No troops reported any chemical effects, despite traveling through the minefield breaches with faces and hands exposed.

Based on the facts available, the assessment for this incident is that the presence of a chemical warfare agent is unlikely. The presence of a chemical warfare agent in the 2nd Marine Division’s area of the minefield was also judged to be unlikely. Analyses of the Fox vehicle’s tape by three independent labs confirmed it as a false alarm. The investigation of the 2nd Marine Divisions’ breaching operations is ongoing.

The DoD released two more case narratives on August 13, 1997. One report is a case history of four significant events reported from various sources that occurred in and around the port city of Al Jubayl, Saudi Arabia during the Gulf War. On the morning of January 19, 1991 a loud noise was heard throughout the entire Al Jabayl area. Data indicates that the loud noise was caused by sonic boom from two coalition aircraft exceeding the speed of sound as they flew over the city of Al Jubayl at approximately the same time the "loud noise" was heard and reported.

A second incident of loud explosions was reported on January 20-21, 1991. Investigation findings indicate that the explosions were probably caused by a SCUD missile fired towards Dhahran and intercepted by a Patriot air defense missile. While there is no record of reported impact site, the event is confirmed by numerous command log entries and the SCUD launch database. No injuries were reported on January 19-21 that would be consistent with chemical agent exposure. Based on available information, the presence of a chemical or biological warfare agent in the Al Jubayl area during the January 19-21 time period is judged to be "unlikely."

The third event associated with Al Jubayl occurred on February 16, 1991. The 66th SCUD missile launched during the war impacted in Al Jubayl harbor. No coalition personnel were injured and no equipment was damaged. During the recovery of the warhead and render safe operations, explosive ordnance disposal personnel found no evidence of chemical or biological agents. Based on the information available, DoD assessed that the SCUD was "definitely not" armed with a chemical or biological warfare agent.

On March 19, 1991, nine Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 24 were exposed to unidentified airborne noxious fumes. Seven of the nine exposed individuals sought medical attention for symptoms such as burning throats, eyes and noses, and difficulty breathing. In addition , some portion of the brown T-shirts and combat boots worn by personnel turned purple. While none of those affected saw the origin of the noxious cloud that enveloped them, they all believed the cloud came from an industrial plant located near Camp 13. Based on testing, findings indicate that the T-shirt color change could have resulted from exposure to a strong oxidizer such as nitric or sulfuric oxides, by-products of industrial area operations. Considering the information available to date, the narrative concludes that there was "definitely not" chemical warfare agents present on March 19, 1991.

The narrative on the sample of the SCUD missile, released at the same time as the Al Jabayl report on August 13, focuses on the small Scud fragment submitted to the Presidential Advisory Committee on Gulf War Illnesses for analysis of potential chemical agents. The fragment was reported to be a piece of a missile hit by a Patriot missile near King Fahd Military City on or about January 19, 1991. The metal piece had been kept as a souvenir by a soldier stationed there. The fragment was reported to cause blisters when touched. The narrative reports that, based on the metallurgical analysis, the sample could have been a Scud. However, no evidence of chemical warfare agent contamination was found by the chemical analysis of the sample performed by the U.S. Army Edgewood Research and Development Engineering Center. The assessment for this case is "unlikely" that chemical warfare agents were present.

The Mustard Agent Exposure case centers around a single incident of exposure to a single soldier assigned to the 3rd Armored Division immediately following the Gulf War. This case narrative was published on August 28. Pfc. David A. Fisher was exposed to a chemical agent while exploring enemy bunker complexes on March 1, 1991. He developed blister symptoms on his arms roughly eight hours following exposure. Medical experts concluded that Fisher’s skin injuries were most likely caused by exposure to mustard agent and he was awarded a Purple Heart for his injury. There were no similar symptoms of exposure to liquid mustard agent reported by other troops.

The following cases are in various stages of development and will be released in the next few months :

The Czech-French Detections case narrative describes the seven incidents reported by the Czech and French forces concerning the possible detection of very low concentrations of nerve or blister agents. The case narrative is in internal review and will be finished, after OSAGWI staff return from a fact finding trip to France and the Czech Republic.

The Al Jaber narrative examines the reports of suspected chemical warfare agent by U.S. Marines during combat operations to retake the Kuwaiti Air Base of Al Jaber near Kuwait City. A Fox vehicle involved with Task Force Ripper reported a chemical detection in February of 1991.

The narrative referred to as ASP-ORCHARD focuses on incidents involving a Fox vehicle assigned to Task Force RIPPER near Kuwait City during Operation Desert Storm . A possible chemical agent detection was reported at the Ammunition Supply Point (ASP) located in an orchard southwest of Kuwait International Airport in February of 1991.

The 11th Marines investigation covers a collection of incidents that happened over a period of time during the ground war. Five artillery battalions that were task organized as the 11th Marines responded to approximately 20 chemical alerts during the four days of the ground war. At the time the alarms occurred, further evaluation determined they were false alarms. The investigation entails determining if the assessments made at the time were the correct assessment.

The Tallil Air Base narrative concerns the possible presence of chemical warfare agents at Tallil Air Base, Iraq. Tallil was a major tactical air base in southeastern Iraq. It was suspected by intelligence sources to be a chemical weapon storage site, because it had a S-shaped bunker.

The Kuwaiti Girls’ School case involves the reported positive detection of mustard blister agent in a tank outside a school in Kuwait after the war. OSAGWI is collaborating with British scientists who analyzed chemical samples from this tank..

In addition to case narratives, a series of information papers are being prepared for release which report on the military procedures and equipment associated with activities during the Gulf War. The first paper, issued on July 29,1997, outlined the capabilities of the Fox NBC Reconnaissance Vehicle. The paper explains how the vehicle detects chemical agents - its capabilities and limitations - and how it was used during Operation Desert Storm. Other information papers include issues such as insecticides, depleted uranium, pyridostigmine bromide, infectious diseases, oil well fires, the M8 alarm, and MOPP protective gear.

The OSAGWI continues to solicit additional information on all reported cases. Each narrative will continue to be posted on the GulfLINK Internet site. Veterans with information or eyewitness experiences that could assist in these investigations are encouraged to call the Incident Reporting Line at 1-800-472-6719.