Official Describes Scene at Iraqi Weapons Bunker
By Douglas J. Gillert
American Forces Press Service
SAN ANTONIO, Texas, Nov. 18, 1996 A senior DoD official addressing representatives of veterans groups Nov. 8 said the department is still piecing together what happened at Khamisiyah, Iraq, in March 1991.
Intelligence reports made known to DoD this year the possibility American soldiers destroyed chemical weapons at the weapon storage site in southern Iraq shortly after the end of the Persian Gulf War. But Scott Harris dispelled the notion there's any solid evidence of chemical exposure to Gulf War veterans.
Harris, a senior assistant to Deputy Secretary of Defense John White, said the soldiers probably didn't know the weapons they destroyed in a bunker at Khamisiyah contained chemicals. "We're having difficulty getting the whole story, but as far as we can tell there was no knowledge of chemical weapons at the time," he said. The weapons contained no special markings, he said, and monitors did not indicate the presence of chemicals.
Prevailing winds blew the cloud of gas released by the explosions away from the troops, Harris said. "So it's not surprising the monitors didn't detect chemicals," he said.
Intelligence reports indicate Iraqis stored chemical weapons in Bunker 73 and a nearby pit at Khamisiyah. U.N. inspectors confirmed this March that weapons stored in the bunker had contained chemicals. Defense officials also learned this summer soldiers destroyed crated chemical weapons in a pit near the bunker. Logs kept at the time indicate the destruction of 840 rockets at Khamisiyah on March 12. However, soldiers involved in the operation have told officials they destroyed all the weapons on March 10.
As a precautionary measure, DoD decided to include March 12 -- and all troops within 50 kilometers of the weapons storage complex between March 4 and March 15 -- in its investigation. "The effects [of chemical fallout] would occur within 25 kilometers, so we doubled that," Harris said. Additionally, sarin, the deadly agent officials believe the weapons contained, degrades after three days, he said.
To get the full story, DoD began in October mailing letters and follow-up surveys to 20,000 service members they know were stationed within the 50-kilometer circle around Khamisiyah in March 1991. In addition, it is telephoning 1,100 soldiers directly involved in the explosions.