DoD Releases Report on Possible Chemical Agent Detections by Czech and French Allies



WASHINGTON, August 5, 1998 (GulfLINK) - The Department of Defense released today the results of their on-going investigation into reported detections of chemical agents by two coalition partners during the Gulf War.

There were eight reports of chemical detections, four by soldiers from the Czech Republic, and four by French forces. Both the French and the Czech unit who was reportedly in direct support of the French issued reports of chemical agents, and both of these reports are considered one incident. All seven incidents occurred during the first several days of the air war, between January 19 and January 25, 1991.

Of the seven different incidents, the investigation revealed that only two detections were credible, even though U.S. chemical units at the sites did not confirm the presence of chemical warfare agents.

During the Gulf War, Czech chemical units reported four chemical agent detections. However, in 1993 the Czech Ministry of Defense released a report acknowledging only two of these detections. The French government has not acknowledged any of the four reported detections made by French forces during the same January 1991 time frame.

"Our in-depth analysis of the technical competence of the Czech chemical units and our confidence in the reliability of their equipment leaves their reports as credible," said Bernard Rostker, the Pentagon's special assistant for Gulf War illnesses. "The door remains open to the possibility that very low levels of chemical warfare agents may have been present."

The Defense report confirms that the reported concentrations of chemical agents were far below levels considered life threatening or able to cause immediate injury to troops in the area. The investigation found no physical evidence of offensive action by Iraqi forces at the time that could account for the presence of chemical agents, such as SCUD missile attacks, artillery exchanges, or any offensive actions in the area that could have delivered the chemical agents. It also discounts any release of chemical agents by the destruction of Iraqi stockpiles of chemical agents by bombing during the air campaign of the war.

"This case narrative provides the most robust treatment of the seven incidents to date," Rostker said. "The most significant contribution over previous efforts is the addition of what we know about the relationship of the air campaign to these detections."

"Many theories attribute air attacks on Ukhaydir, Muhammadiyat and Al Muthanna as responsible for the Czech and French detections. The narrative discounts these sources because of the timing of the attacks and the distances from the reported incidents."

Rostker noted that the An Nasiriyah bombings did not strike the bunker which contained chemical munitions. In addition, he said another location, As Salman, theorized as a source in one log, was dismantled before the war and contained no chemical munitions at the time it was bombed.

Rostker provided further details of the two detections found to be credible. The first occurred on January 19, 1991, when the Czechs reported the presence of an extremely low level of the nerve agent sarin near Hafar al Batin. They used two different tests to detect and confirm the presence of this nerve agent. However, the American chemical team that arrived within hours of the initial report did not detect the presence of any chemical warfare agent in the same area. The investigation acknowledges it is possible that the nerve agent vapors may have dissipated in that amount of time.

The second incident occurred a few days later, on January 24, 1991. A Saudi officer directed a Czech chemical team to a remote site in the desert approximately 10 kilometers north of King Khalid Military City. There the Czech chemical team tested a wet and discolored patch of sand about two feet wide and six feet long. Using two different testing methods, they detected the presence of the blister agent, mustard. Confident of their test results, the Czech chemical team did not take a soil sample, so further analysis could not be conducted at the Czech mobile chemical laboratory. Due to the extremely limited nature of the contamination, the remoteness of the site, and the absence of any coalition personnel stationed in the immediate location, the site was left without any markings.

Rostker reminded veterans that this is an interim, not a final report.

"I hope that veterans will read this report. If there is an error or information that we missed, we want to know. We are committed to continue the investigation into these incidents, and any others, that could help explain why some of our Gulf War veterans are ill," Rostker promised.

"We encourage veterans with additional information to call the Gulf War incident reporting line at 1-800-472-6719 or DSN 878-3261," he said.