Deputy Secretary of Defense John P. White announced today an
expanded notification program to Gulf War veterans who may have
been exposed to low levels of chemical weapon agents resulting
from demolitions of Iraqi ammunition at the Khamisiyah weapons
storage complex in Southern Iraq in March 1991, shortly after
Desert Storm had ended.
The expanded notices were ordered by White because
information currently being evaluated suggests low level
exposures may have taken place out to 25 km from the Khamisiyah
complex on March 10, 1991, when a small group of U.S. forces
detonated a still unknown number of 122 mm chemical rockets in a
pit area a few kilometers away from Bunker 73, which was
destroyed on March 4. Both the pit and Bunker 73 are located in
the vast Khamisiyah complex.
The Pentagon announced the discovery of the destruction of
chemical weapons at Bunker 73 during a news conference on June
21. At that time, there had been no reports of demolitions by
U.S troops in the pit area. After the briefing, the Persian Gulf
Investigation Team continued to examine intensively the
operations at the Khamisiyah complex. The team's further
discussions with veterans revealed that members of the 37th
Engineer Battalion destroyed stacks of crated munitions in the
pit area on March 10, 1991, after these stacks were found by the
battalion operations officer a day earlier. Information about
the destruction of chemical weapons in the pit area has been
developed since that time.
As reported to the Presidential Advisory Committee on Gulf
War Veterans Illnesses on September 5, 1996, DoD and the Central
Intelligence Agency are working on a computer model that will
estimate the possible dispersion of any chemical agents that
might have occurred during the weapons destruction. DoD will
begin notifications immediately to about 5,000 Service members
who were in the possible dispersion area. As we learn more
about Khamisiyah in these next few weeks, we expect to identify
more troops who might have been exposed. DoD will notify them to
offer them evaluation.
Notifications will be done as quickly as possible by letter.
As always, veterans will be offered medical evaluation and
treatment by DoD or VA, as appropriate.
Veterans who were in the Khamisiyah area in March 1991 who
have not already enrolled in either the DoD or VA registry and
examination program can call the following toll-free numbers (DoD
at 1-800-796-9699 and VA at 1-800-749-8387).
The Pit Area at Khamisiyah
In October 1991, the UNSCOM inspection team found 297 122mm
rockets containing a mixture of the chemical nerve agents sarin
(GB) and cyclosarin (GF) in the pit area. The mostly intact
rockets were found in several heaps or piles, but some appeared
to have been damaged or destroyed. At that time the Iraqis told
UNSCOM that occupying coalition troops had destroyed chemical
weapons at Bunker 73 earlier that year. UNSCOM reported that the
rockets found in the pit area were apparently salvaged from that
bunker. Iraqi statements however, were viewed with skepticism at
the time because of the use of deception by the Iraqis against
In March 1992, when the UNSCOM inspectors returned to
Khamisiyah, they reported that they consolidated and destroyed a
total of 463 nerve agent 122mm rockets found in the pit area,
including the 297 they found during the October 1991 inspection.
Approximately 300 additional intact rockets were found buried in
the pit area which were sent to Al Muthanna, 100 kilometers
northwest of Baghdad, for destruction. DoD and CIA are currently
trying to determine how many rockets were destroyed in the pit.
In May 1996, UNSCOM inspectors returned to Khamisiyah and
were told by Iraqi officials that some 2,160 122mm GB/GF rockets
were moved into bunker 73 from Al Muthanna just prior to the air
war. The Iraqis told the inspectors that these rockets began to
leak and they moved approximately half of them from bunker 73 to
the pit area. The movement of these munitions occurred prior to
the 37th Engineer Battalion's arrival in early March 1991. At
this inspection, the Iraqis also stated that occupying coalition
forces destroyed the pit area rockets.
As part of the systematic destruction of the Khamisiyah
ammunition area, the 37th Engineer Battalion destroyed stacks of
crated munitions in the pit area on 10 March 1991 after these
stacks were found by the battalion operations officer a day
The Persian Gulf Investigation Team will continue to
investigate the circumstances surrounding the pit area
demolition, identify what troops were in the area at the time,
determine the amount of any chemical agents released, and
ascertain details required to model any potential downwind hazard
area. Using modeled downwind hazard distance and unit location
data from our Geographic Information System, units in the
Khamisiyah vicinity that were possibly affected will be
identified for further analysis and follow-up.