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Cohen Orders Army, Air Force to Check Sarin Allegations

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 11, 1998 – Defense Secretary William S. Cohen June 9 ordered the acting secretaries of the Army and Air Force to investigate a news report that the services used sarin nerve agent in Laos in 1970.

CNN and Time magazine published the allegation June 8 in accounts about Operation Tailwind, a special operations mission. Use of sarin would have been against U.S. policy at the time. In 1969, President Richard Nixon vowed the United States would not use chemical agents first.

Cohen gave the acting secretaries 30 days to report their investigation findings to him. He said he was not aware of any information that would substantiate the news story. Also, Army and Air Force historians have reported finding no evidence nerve agents were used.

"The U.S. Army has found no documentary evidence to support CNN's claims that nerve gas of any type was used in Operation Tailwind in September 1970 or in any other Army operation within or outside South Vietnam," said Graham Cosmas, a historian with the Army's Center for Military History here.

Cosmas also said U.S. forces in Southeast Asia often employed tear gas and other riot control agents. "However, no lethal agents of any sort are known to have been employed," he said.

A search of Air Force historical records also did not turn up any hint of U.S. use of lethal chemical weapons during Operation Tailwind.

According to the news reports, U.S. soldiers and Montagnard allies went into Laos to destroy an enemy enclave and kill U.S. defectors believed to be hiding there. (Montagnards are a group of people who live in the mountainous regions of Laos and Vietnam.) The story claims sarin was used to eliminate resistance and later to defeat an enemy counterattack. DoD records say the only mission was to locate and destroy enemy caches of ammunition, weapons and supplies in Laos and to gather intelligence.

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