III. NARRATIVE [1]

This narrative is a chronological description of the destruction of enemy munitions by US soldiers at Khamisiyah in March and April 1991, UNSCOM inspections, and the US government response to concerns of veterans with undiagnosed illnesses. This version includes pre-Desert Shield activities and expands the government’s response into major sections. This version first provides some background information and, then relates the Khamisiyah story in four general time periods (Figure 3). The Pre-Desert Shield period covers a general history of Khamisiyah beginning in May 1976 through August 1990, which was not in the first report. The Desert Shield/Desert Storm period continues in August 1990, extends into February 1991, and describes the military events conducted in the vicinity of Khamisiyah. The third time period, late February, March, and April 1991, covers in detail the demolition activities at Khamisiyah. The narrative concludes with a description of US government actions from May 1991 through March 2000 in response to the revelations of demolition of chemical munitions at Khamisiyah.

 

Figure 3. Key periods in Khamisiyah history

A. Background

Name. Two national-level US intelligence collection organizations—the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the National Security Agency (NSA)—identified the ammunition storage point at Khamisiyah independently of one another. Each organization also gave it a different name. The name discrepancy was not identified or corrected until after the Gulf War.

In September 1976 the United States Intelligence Community[2] first identified the site now called the Khamisiyah ASP while it was still under construction. In June 1977, the CIA named it "Tall al Lahm Ammunition Storage Area" (after a nearby town) in their imagery database.[3]  In 1982, the NSA received intelligence about the "Al Khamisiyah ammunition depot." This report did not give the location of the depot. However, the NSA later received intelligence that placed this ammunition depot less than 3 kilometers from the town of Khamisiyah. This was the same facility that the CIA called "Tall al Lahm Ammunition Storage Area."

Another national-level intelligence organization, the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), adopted the CIA name, which became the "official" name during the Gulf War.[4] Many US soldiers, however, were unaware of the official name. Instead, they referred to it by other local place names, such as "Suq ash Shuyukh" or "Al Juwarin." To further complicate matters, Iraq referred to it in its early declarations by a different name altogether—"Khamisiyah Stores." (See Table 1.)

Table 1. Names for Khamisiyah

Used Now

Used By US Forces During
The Gulf War

Used by Iraq During
The Gulf War

  • Khamisiyah Ammunition Supply Point
  • Khamisiyah ASP
  • Khamisiyah
  • Tall al Lahm Ammunition Storage Area (Official Term)
  • Suq Ash Shuyukh
  • Al Juwarin
  • Khamisiyah Stores

This variety of names for a single location would later cause much confusion as stories of chemical weapons at Khamisiyah emerged after the war. This confusion contributed greatly to the initial delays in investigating the events that took place there, and did not end until 1996, when the National Security Council (NSC) directed DoD to use the name used by Iraq—Khamisiyah. For this narrative, we are using "Khamisiyah Ammunition Supply Point" (abbreviated to Khamisiyah ASP) to refer to the area inside the fence of the ASP and "Khamisiyah" to refer to the area within a 10 kilometer radius of the ASP.

Location. The Khamisiyah ASP was located 35 kilometers southeast of the city of An Nasiriyah, south of the Euphrates River (Figure 4). The coordinates for the ASP were:

 

Figure 4.  Khamisiyah

Description. The Khamisiyah ASP was large by any standard. It covered an area of nearly 40 square kilometers (Figure 5) and contained approximately 100 ammunition storage bunkers (Figure 6), 88 ammunition storage buildings, and numerous other buildings.

 

Figure 5.  Khamisiyah Ammunition Supply Point

Figure 6.  Typical bunker in the Khamisiyah Ammunition Supply Point; picture from 37th Engineer Battalion videotape

Surrounding Features. Several geographic features near Khamisiyah are important to the events that took place there (Figure 7). These include:

Figure 7.  Area features surrounding Khamisiyah

B. Pre-Desert Shield Period: May 1976 – August 1990

Figure 8 shows the key events of the Pre-Desert Shield period. As previously mentioned, when the US Intelligence Community first discovered the Khamisiyah ASP in 1976, they identified it as a storage depot for conventional[12] (i.e., non-chemical, non-biological, and non-nuclear) munitions.

Figure 8.  Pre-Desert Shield period

In May 1986, the CIA received and distributed a translated Iraqi document to some policy, intelligence, and DoD officials. That document stated that Iraq had used the "al-Khamisiyah warehouses" in 1984 and 1985 to store chemical weapons used against Iran. The document also stated:

3,975 155-mm mustard-loaded artillery grenades [sic] have been issued (from June 1984 to March 1985) to al-Khamisiyah warehouses. We do not have official data about using this quantity by the third army corps. The warehouses currently have 6,293 150-mm [sic] mustard bombs, enough to meet front demands for four days on a 15-minute mission.[13]

In November 1986, the CIA produced an assessment that used the information from this report to conclude that Iraq had indeed stored chemical weapons during the Iran-Iraq war "at the southern forward ammunition depot located at Tall al Lahm."[14] In this assessment, the CIA not only identified Tall al Lahm as a chemical storage site, but also made the connection between the ammunition depot they called "Tall al Lahm" and Iraq called "al Khamisiyah." However, this connection did not permanently resolve the earlier disconnect in names, which would persist until after the Gulf War. In the same assessment, the CIA also stated that "a new generation of 16 bunkers will expand Iraq's capability to store CW [chemical warfare] munitions at six airfields and at three ammunition storage depots that are strategically located throughout the country." The Intelligence Community called these new bunkers S-shaped bunkers.[15] Khamisiyah had no S-shaped bunkers; the nearest ones were at Tallil airfield and An Nasiriyah ASP SW. The CIA’s assessment of Iraq’s report established an important link between chemical weapons storage and al Khamisiyah/Tall al Lahm. However, it also shifted future analyses of potential chemical storage sites to concentrate on locations that had S-shaped bunkers. The analytical bias toward S-shaped bunkers may explain why Khamisiyah was not on any of the lists of suspected chemical storage facilities generated from 1986 to the beginning of the Gulf War in 1990.[16]

C. Desert Shield/Desert Storm Period: August 1990 – February 1991

1. Key Military Units Involved

US Central Command (USCENTCOM). USCENTCOM was responsible for all Coalition military operations in the Gulf region. Its organizational structure is shown in Figure 9.[17]

 

Figure 9.  USCENTCOM organization

US Army Component, Central Command (ARCENT). ARCENT was directly subordinate to USCENTCOM and was the parent unit of XVIII Airborne Corps and VII Corps.

XVIII Airborne Corps. XVIII Airborne Corps units attacked and occupied the portion of Iraq that included Khamisiyah. Their units were the first to conduct demolition operations at Khamisiyah in early March 1991. XVIII Airborne Corps withdrew from Iraq in mid-March, replaced by VII Corps. Key units of XVIII Airborne Corps included:

VII Corps. VII Corps replaced XVIII Airborne Corps in southeastern Iraq on March 24, 1991. VII Corps units continued demolition operations at Khamisiyah until early April. Key VII Corps units operating in the area included:

2. Key Events

Some of the key events from August 1990 to February 1991 that preceded US demolition operations in the Khamisiyah area are shown in Figure 10.

Figure 10.  Desert Shield/Desert Storm Period

August 2, 1990: Iraq invaded Kuwait. By August 7th, Operation Desert Shield (the Defense of Saudi Arabia) began. Within days, US and Coalition forces began to arrive in Saudi Arabia.

During Operation Desert Shield, US military leaders were acutely aware of the constant threat posed to US soldiers by Iraq’s chemical weapons arsenal. US soldiers knew that during the Iran-Iraq War, Iraq had repeatedly used chemical weapons against the Iranians, as well as against people within Iraq’s own borders.[19]

As a result, US military operations and training focused heavily on defensive measures against a chemical weapons attack by Iraq. These defensive measures included training at every level, from individual survival skills (e.g., mask confidence exercises) to large-scale logistics operations. The immediacy of Iraq’s chemical threat caused soldiers to conduct this training with increased urgency.[20] Commanders’ emphasis was to fully equip all soldiers and units with chemical protective equipment, including masks, clothing, chemical alarms, decontamination kits, and nerve agent antidote kits.

December 22, 1990: An XVIII Airborne Corps message to units emphasized the high state of preparedness against Iraq’s chemical weapons attack. XVIII Airborne Corps transmitted a message to its subordinate units that declared the ability of US forces to protect themselves against Iraq’s use of chemical weapons. The message emphasized superior US training and equipment in contrast to Iraq’s armed forces. It also stated DoD’s assessment of the poor quality of Iraq’s chemical warfare agents. XVIII Airborne Corps intended the message to instill US soldiers with confidence in their ability to prevail against an enemy known and expected to use chemical weapons.[21]

Defensive preparations against a chemical attack focused on training soldiers to protect themselves and their equipment from exposure to chemical warfare agents. This training included precautions to be taken against unexploded munitions on the battlefield suspected of being chemical (such as "duds" or abandoned ammunition stockpiles).

However, we did not train or expect the vast majority of soldiers to identify the hundreds of different kinds of munitions they might find on the battlefield, whether friendly or enemy, conventional or chemical. Nor did the vast majority of soldiers have the training or expectation of handling these munitions in any way, to include destroying them by demolition. The very technical and dangerous task of identifying and handling unexploded munitions of any kind belongs to the specially trained soldiers of the explosive ordnance disposal detachments.

January 1991: USCENTCOM completed the plan for the Desert Storm ground campaign. One of the critical objectives of the plan called for XVIII Airborne Corps to seize "Objective Gold," where a 3-kilometer strip of road connected two parallel highways. The center of Objective Gold was only five kilometers from the Khamisiyah ASP (Figure 11).

 

Figure 11.  Location of Objective Gold

January 10 – 15, 1991: Iraq moved 2,160 chemical-filled rockets to Khamisiyah.[22] According to Iraq’s declaration made later to the UNSCOM, Iraq moved the 122mm rockets from the Al Muthanna chemical weapons production facility to Khamisiyah between January 10 and January 15, 1991. This was apparently intended to get the rockets away from Al Muthanna, which would be a likely target for Coalition air strikes. Iraq claimed to have initially placed all 2,160 rockets in Bunker 73, and discovering almost immediately that some of these rockets were leaking nerve agent, moved them from Bunker 73 to the Pit.[23] UNSCOM did not confirm the movement from Bunker 73 to the Pit.

Table 2. Coalition aircraft strikes on Khamisiyah

Date

Number Of Aircraft

Type Of Aircraft
January 19, 1991

11

F-15E (Strike Eagle/US)
January 26, 1991

6

GR-1 (Tornado/UK)
January 27, 1991

2

B-52G (Superfortress/US)
February 3, 1991

7

GR-1 (Tornado/UK)
February 9, 1991

7

GR-1 (Tornado/UK)
February 25, 1991

7

B-52G (Superfortress/US)

 

January 17, 1991: Operation Desert Storm Commenced with the Air Campaign. The amount of munitions possibly stored at Khamisiyah made it a significant military target. As a result, Coalition aircraft attacked Khamisiyah on six dates (Table 2),[24] destroying approximately 45 warehouses.[25]

February 14, 1991: ARCENT directed XVIII Airborne Corps and VII Corps to plan to destroy all of Iraq’s military equipment. According to this directive (called "planning guidance"), ARCENT directed XVIII Airborne Corps and VII Corps to destroy all of Iraq’s military equipment within their respective sectors of Iraq. This extended beyond the simple destruction of enemy equipment encountered during the course of battle. It also included the systematic destruction of all captured or abandoned enemy equipment and the destruction of ammunition storage areas. ARCENT sent this directive 10 days before the Desert Storm ground campaign. It stated in part:

While in Iraq [the ARCENT Commander’s] intent is to destroy all Iraqi equipment, ammo and military supplies in the pursuit/destruction of the RGFC [Republican Guard Forces Command]. Although care will be taken to preclude civilian casualties, it is our intent to destroy in detail Iraqi forces in the Iraqi portion of the KTO [Kuwait Theater of Operations].[26]

This destruction was called "demilitarization" and was aimed at eliminating Iraq’s military capabilities in southeastern Iraq.

Around February 15, 1991: Iraq moved more than 6,000 artillery rounds filled with mustard agent to a Khamisiyah site. Iraq declared these 155mm artillery rounds to have been originally stored in Bunker 8 at An Nasiriyah ASP SW. Coalition aircraft had already destroyed several ammunition bunkers at this site. Iraq feared that additional air strikes might hit Bunker 8 and the mustard rounds. Consequently, Iraq moved the rounds to a desert site approximately 3 kilometers west of the Khamisiyah ASP. According to Iraq’s declarations to the United Nations, Iraq moved the munitions from Bunker 8 over a one-week period around February 15, 1991.[27] They placed the rounds in several areas under tarpaulins, using the surrounding terrain to hide them (Figure 12 shows some of the rounds as viewed by UNSCOM). Iraq later reported to UNSCOM that they moved 6,240 mustard rounds. However, the UNSCOM team actually counted 6,323 rounds.[28]

 

Figure 12.  UNSCOM photograph of Iraq’s 155mm mustard rounds at Khamisiyah

February 18, 1991: XVIII Airborne Corps requested assistance from ARCENT in planning for the destruction of Iraq's chemical munitions. XVIII Airborne Corps understood that the ARCENT directive to "destroy all Iraqi equipment, ammo and military supplies" included the destruction of any chemical munitions that they might find. They also knew that there were several suspected chemical munitions storage sites in their sector. Compliance with ARCENT guidance would require the prompt development of a plan for destroying the chemical munitions that they anticipated finding at these sites. However, XVIII Airborne Corps did not have the resources or the expertise to develop or implement such a plan and requested ARCENT assistance. Their message stated in part:

This message requests that contingency planning be initiated to provide XVIII Abn [Airborne] Corps technical assistance to neutralize Iraqi chemical or biological munitions stored at Tallil airfield (305604N0460536E), An Nasiriyah Storage Facility SW (30570N0461030E), and As Salman airfield (303930N443500E)…. Current intelligence indicates that Iraq may be using one or more bunkers at above facilities to store chemical or biological weapons (CBW). These facilities fall inside the Corps area of operations. The Corps does not plan to occupy Tallil AF [airfield] and An Nasiriyah Storage Facility with a ground force, but this intent could change based on the situation or on direction from higher headquarters. If required to neutralize CBW, the Corps will require technical assistance…. Request that: 1) ARCENT develop a CONPLAN [contingency plan] to cover the above eventualities; 2) ARCENT provide preliminary guidance on probable disposition directions....[29]

This message lists the three sites in the XVIII Airborne Corps sector where they believed chemical or biological weapons might be stored. Notably, Khamisiyah was not a suspected chemical weapons site. This message is the first known instance during Desert Shield/Desert Storm of any unit specifically addressing the issue of destroying chemical weapons they might find on the battlefield. It was sent to ARCENT less than a week before the start of the Desert Storm ground campaign.

February 20, 1991: XVIII Airborne Corps document provided guidance for destroying military equipment, including chemical munitions. XVIII Airborne Corps published a 16-page manual, "Demilitarization of Iraqi Equipment,"[30] which was divided into several sections. With four days remaining before the start of the Desert Storm ground campaign, XVIII Airborne Corps had not yet received the guidance on handling chemical munitions it had requested from ARCENT. XVIII Airborne Corps did not want to risk waiting for guidance that might not arrive before the ground campaign began. Therefore, it published its own guidance[31] to enable its soldiers to identify and destroy the chemical (and other) munitions it expected to find. Each section provided instructions for destroying specific types of Iraq’s military equipment. Section VII described procedures for identifying and handling conventional munitions. It stated in part:

Due to the large number of countries supplying ammunition to Iraq, it is difficult to determine if any standard Iraq [sic] color coding systems exist. A review of pictures from an arms display in Bagdad [sic] provided a look at color markings on Iraqi manufactured ammunition…. A positive identification of the ordnance ... must be obtained prior to any disposal procedure ... EOD personnel must be involved in the identification, collection and disposal of all foreign ordnance.[32]

Section VIII of the document dealt specifically with the identification and handling of chemical munitions.

Do not attempt to destroy chemical munitions without guidance or authorization. Report all known or suspected chemical munitions to higher headquarters immediately…. At this time, there are no known markings/color scheme on Iraqi chemical and biological munitions.... Therefore, if munitions do not match the markings outlined in section VII, assume munitions are chemical.[33]

This manual also emphasized that EOD must be involved in all aspects of identifying and disposing of all munitions. All XVIII Airborne Corps units were on the distribution list for this manual. However, none of the engineers we interviewed who participated in the demolition operations at Khamisiyah remember seeing it.[34]

February 23, 1991

A CIA message indicated there may be a chemical weapons storage site at Khamisiyah.The CIA sent a cable to its support elements in Saudi Arabia. It reported that a human source (believed to be in the Iranian Air Force or a related industry) indicated that chemical weapons may be stored at the following geographic coordinates: latitude 30 47' north, longitude 46 22' east (Figure 13).[35] These coordinates are approximately 5 kilometers from the Khamisiyah ASP and only 2 kilometers from the site where the Iraq stored the mustard rounds from An Nasiriyah ASP SW. Thus, the message may have referred to either one of these sites. The CIA stated that this report was immediately made available to USCENTCOM and some subordinate US military elements in Riyadh.[36] This was the first known instance of intelligence passed to US forces in the Gulf that indicated the possibility of chemical weapons at Khamisiyah. We have not located military documentation in USCENTCOM records that indicates they received this information, or (if they did) they passed it to subordinate units. At the time of our first Khamisiyah narrative publication, we thought this CIA cable was related to the February 26 XVIII Airborne Corps message warning of possible chemical munitions on Objective Gold (see February 26, 1991, entry). Subsequent interviews revealed no connection between the CIA cable and the XVIII Airborne Corps message.

Figure 13.  Mustard rounds and possible chemical munitions storage sites

Commander, US Army, Central Command (COMUSARCENT) published guidance for identifying and handling Iraq’s suspected chemical munitions. This brief message pointed out the potential difficulty in identifying these munitions. It described the possible marking schemes of some chemical munitions, but left open the possibility that chemical munitions might be marked in other—unspecified—ways. It stated in part:

Units who [sic] capture or find munitions suspected of being chemical/biological will not handle, move, or destroy them. Units will mark the location and, if possible, secure the area and identify the location to supporting EOD teams. Chemical munitions may be difficult to identify. Some are marked with gold, yellow, green or blue bands and may be stored with conventional munitions.[37]

February 24, 1991

Desert Storm Ground Campaign began. At 0400 hours local time, Coalition ground forces advanced north across the Saudi Arabia border into Iraq and Kuwait, beginning the 100-hour ground campaign of Desert Storm.[38]

US Commander in Chief Central Command (USCINCCENT) published guidance for handling Iraq’s chemical munitions. USCINCCENT developed a message in response to queries from lower echelons about the proper handling of chemical munitions. This message provided instructions to all US forces in the KTO concerning the proper disposition of Iraq’s chemical munitions. It stated in part:

Captured indirect fire munitions (mortar, artillery or rocket warheads) in calibers greater than 120mm [emphasis added]… will not be moved or destroyed prior to an evaluation by an Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) team…. US units capturing systems capable of delivering chemical munitions and possessing either prepared or stored munitions will secure and report the location. The area will be secured, either by the capturing unit or by follow-on forces, until an EOD team is able to determine whether chemical/biological munitions have been captured.[39]

Thus, soldiers only needed to be able to recognize which munitions or weapons were 120mm or greater and to treat these as chemical munitions until EOD could identify them otherwise.

Some of Iraq’s weapon systems were capable of delivering several different kinds of munitions. For example, their 122mm rockets at Khamisiyah could deliver either high explosives or chemical warfare agents. According to the instructions in this message, the soldiers who would eventually find these rockets at Khamisiyah were to regard them as chemical munitions until EOD personnel could determine otherwise. The USCENTCOM J5 (Policy) staff wrote this message at the request of the USCENTCOM chemical officer.[40] The request came fewer than four days before the beginning of the ground campaign, and USCENTCOM developed the guidance quickly so they could send it before US forces entered Iraq. The policy staff developed this guidance from supporting documentation stating that "Iraqi chemical/biological munitions are not marked for identification."[41] The guidance in the message is consistent with this statement, though the statement itself does not appear in the message.

Although USCENTCOM prepared the message as quickly as possible, USCENTCOM did not transmit it until about 12 hours after the Desert Storm ground campaign began. It was sent only to ARCENT and four other USCENTCOM subordinate headquarters. Thus, no Army combat unit that had already advanced north into Iraq received this message from USCENTCOM.

February 25, 1991: ARCENT assigned EOD units to identify and destroy all of Iraq’s chemical munitions found in the KTO. The ARCENT plan provided all ARCENT units with guidance on post-war operations. Annex V of the plan directed the activities of EOD units. It stated in part:

EOD is responsible for the detection, identification, field evaluation, rendering safe, recovery and final disposal of all UXOs [unexploded ordnance] to include conventional explosives, chemical/biological weapons and nuclear munitions.[42]

February 26, 1991

XVIII Airborne Corps accident; seven soldiers die. The soldiers were engineers from the 27th Engineer Battalion (part of the 20th Engineer Brigade and a sister unit to the 37th Engineer Battalion). They died in an accidental explosion while preparing US unexploded munitions found at the As Salman Airfield (170 kilometers southwest of Khamisiyah) for demolition. In this single incident, XVIII Airborne Corps suffered one-third of its Desert Storm combat casualties. This widely reported incident was a tragic reminder of the extreme danger inherent in the task of handling munitions of any kind and engendered greater caution during subsequent operations.

XVIII Airborne Corps message warned of possible chemicals on Objective Gold. At 8:48 AM, 55 hours into the ground campaign, the XVIII Airborne Corps Tactical Operations Center transmitted a message to the 24th Infantry Division and the 101st Air Assault Division. The message read in part:

Subject: Possible Chemicals on OBJ GOLD

Enemy is departing vic[inity] OBJ[ective] GOLD in 2 directions, NW [northwest] and SE [southeast]. It is possible that we have hit chemical munitions, and enemy is fleeing as quickly as possible. Lead with Fox vehicles when entering area.[43]

The Persian Gulf Investigation Team discovered this message during the initial phase of DoD’s investigation. In early 1997, many analysts from DoD and CIA incorrectly concluded that this message provided a strong indication that the XVIII Airborne Corps knew Khamisiyah might be a chemical weapons storage site (even before demolition operations began there). The two key assumptions, which were the basis of this belief, are analyzed below:

Were Objective Gold and the Khamisiyah ASP one and the same? USCENTCOM selected the location of Objective Gold for its access to Highway 8, not its proximity to Khamisiyah. During the Desert Storm ground campaign, US forces had no desire to seize or occupy enemy ammunition depots, however large. In fact, doing so would have diverted large forces and caused needless delays.

Did US forces "hit" chemical warfare weapons at Objective Gold? The XVIII Airborne Corps intended this message to alert soldiers to the possibility of chemical munitions at Objective Gold. US soldiers were alert to any indicators of the presence of chemical weapons. As the message itself indicates, this particular alert was based only on reports of movement. The message does not refer to any other indicators of chemical warfare agent exposure such as enemy casualties, decontamination activity, or chemical warfare agent detection. The tactical operations center sent the message without waiting for firm or conclusive evidence that chemical weapons were actually there.

This message served its purpose as an alert and was not intended to provide a firm basis for suspecting Objective Gold as a location of chemical warfare weapons. The assessment in the message did not take into account the alternative reason that, by this time, 55 hours into the ground campaign, large numbers of Iraq’s forces had indeed begun to flee southeastern Iraq and Kuwait to escape attacking Coalition ground forces. Iraq’s forces were attempting to escape along Highway 8, which runs in a northwest-southeast direction directly through Objective Gold.

Subsequent investigation and interviews of the soldiers who produced this message revealed that they had no specific intelligence information indicating that Khamisiyah was a possible chemical weapons storage site. The soldiers who produced this message believe that since the activity in the report emphasized movement, the original source of this information was probably a Joint Surveillance and Target Attack Radar System aircraft and not ground reconnaissance.[44, 45]

The 24th Infantry Division reached Objective Gold. By late evening, the 24th Infantry Division reached Objective Gold, attacking to the edge of the Nahr al Man’ayah Canal, on the bank opposite the Khamisiyah ASP.

LTC [Lieutenant Colonel] John Craddock maneuvered his 4-64th Armor Battalion [of the 24th Infantry Division] toward a canal north of Highway 8.... Continuing north, the battalion overran a huge, untouched ammunition storage area and pushed the beaten Iraqis protecting the facility into the weeds near the canal.[46]

The "huge, untouched ammunition storage area" was the Tall al Lahm Ammunition Storage Depot South. Task Force 4-64 overwhelmed enemy opposition, and thus achieved military control of Objective Gold and the surrounding area, to include the Khamisiyah ASP. However, they did not enter or occupy the Khamisiyah ASP. Upon reaching the canal, they turned east and continued the attack.[47]

February 27, 1991

In retrospect, XVIII Airborne Corps blocked Iraq’s forces attempting to escape from southern Iraq and Kuwait by gaining control of Highway 8. The 24th Infantry Division was the first XVIII Airborne Corps unit to reach Objective Gold. The 82nd Airborne Division followed behind the 24th Infantry Division and reached Objective Gold later.[48]

Ground operations. The 24th Infantry Division continued rapidly eastward along Highway 8 to cut off Iraq’s forces attempting to escape from Kuwait and southeast Iraq. The 82nd Airborne Division followed behind the 24th Infantry Division, clearing areas of enemy opposition that the 24th Infantry Division initially bypassed.

XVIII Airborne Corps published guidance for identifying and handling captured chemical munitions. The XVIII Airborne Corps derived this guidance from the February 23rd ARCENT message. The message does not refer to USCENTCOM guidance issued three days earlier, which told soldiers to disregard munitions markings for recognition of chemical weapons and to base chemical weapon determination on size. Instead, it reiterates the uncertainty of the ARCENT message about chemical weapons markings:

Chemical munitions may be difficult to identify. Some are possibly marked with gold, yellow, green or blue bands. Other marking schemes and/or patterns may exist. CW/BW [chemical weapons/biological weapons] may be stored with conventional munitions.[49]

This message indicates that XVIII Airborne Corps leaders knew of the potential difficulty that soldiers may have in recognizing chemical munitions while conducting demolition operations. XVIII Airborne Corps did not revise its guidance until March 9th to incorporate the February 24th USCINCCENT guidance and ARCENT’s revised guidance of March 6th.

XVIII Airborne Corps message directed 82nd Airborne Division to begin demolition operations. The XVIII Airborne Corps called the area it would occupy in southern Iraq, Area of Operations Bragg (Figure 14). It encompassed Tallil airfield and An Nasiriyah ASP SW to the northwest, Khamisiyah in the middle, and Jalibah airfield to the southeast. On February 27, 1991, at 9:30 PM local time, XVIII Airborne Corps published Fragmentary Order (FRAGO) 74, which directed the 82nd Airborne Division to "clear enemy forces from Area of Operations Bragg and destroy all equipment" commencing by 10:00 AM on February 28, 1991.[50]

Figure 14.  Area of Operations Bragg

February 28, 1991

Offensive operations ceased. As 82nd Airborne Division units moved to their assigned sectors in Area of Operations Bragg,[51] the XVIII Airborne Corps repeated USCENTCOM commander’s announcement that offensive operations would end effective 8:00 AM on February 28, 1991.[52]

XVIII Airborne Corps message indicated possible marking scheme of Iraq’s chemical munitions. XVIII Airborne Corps transmitted a message to all Corps units at 7:00 AM on February 28 stating:

Iraqi chemical munitions are color-coded as follows:

  1. Red signifies nerve agent.
  2. Yellow signifies blister agent.
  3. Green signifies phosgene.
  4. 1 or 3 rings of red indicates VX/Tabun/Sarin/Soman.
  5. 1 or 3 rings of yellow indicates Blister.
  6. 1 or 3 rings of green indicator [sic] non-persistent.

This information should be disseminated to all personnel involved with destruction of enemy equipment, munitions, and military facilities.[53]

The message definitively associated specific colors with specific types of chemical munitions, but did not address the possibility that other markings for chemical munitions may be used, or that some chemical munitions may not have been marked at all.

XVIII Airborne Corps sent this message to all its units, to include the 20th Engineer Brigade. Within two hours, the 20th Engineer Brigade received it and passed it to its subordinate engineer battalions. This included the 37th Engineer Battalion, which would soon perform demolition operations at Khamisiyah.[54]

Table 3 shows a summary of changes to command-level guidance regarding procedures for soldiers to use when encountering potential chemical or biological warfare munitions on the battlefield.

US soldiers could not safely destroy Iraqi munitions unless they could first distinguish chemical munitions from conventional munitions.   By the last day of the ground war, XVIII Airborne Corps soldiers had received much ambiguous information about Iraq's chemical munitions markings:
  • "There are no known markings" XVIII Airborne Corps handbook;
  • "Some are marked with gold, green, or blue bands" ARCENT message; and
  • "Iraqi chemical munitions are color-coded" XVIII Airborne Corps message.

 

Table 3. Guidance for chemical munitions

Date

Source of Guidance

Guidance Provided

Sender

February 20

XVIII Airborne Corps handbook

EOD must be involved in identification.

No known markings or color scheme on Iraq’s chemical or biological munitions

XVIII Airborne Corps

February 23

ARCENT Operations Staff

Difficult to identify, some marked gold, yellow, green or blue

COMUSARCENT

February 24

USCENTCOM Policy Staff

Munitions larger than 120mm must be evaluated by EOD

USCINCCENT

February 27

ARCENT February 23rd Message

Difficult to identify, some marked gold, yellow, green or blue

XVIII Airborne Corps

February 28

 

XVIII Airborne Corps

Iraq’s chemical munitions are color-coded as follows:

Red signifies nerve agent.
Yellow signifies blister agent.
Green signifies phosgene.

XVIII Airborne Corps

March 6

USCINCCENT February 24 Message

Munitions larger than 120mm must be evaluated by EOD.

COMUSARCENT

March 9

COMUSARCENT March 6 Message

Munitions larger than 120mm must be evaluated by EOD.

XVIII Airborne Corps

USCENTCOM message to ARCENT identified 17 sites—including the Tall al Lahm Ammunition Storage Area—as possible chemical weapons storage sites. In this message, USCENTCOM requested that ARCENT survey 17 locations to determine whether or not they contained chemical or biological weapons.[55] This message identified the Tall al Lahm Ammunition Storage Area [Khamisiyah ASP] and Tall al Lahm Ammunition Storage Depot South as two of the possible chemical weapons storage sites. USCENTCOM sent this message to ARCENT three days before the first demolition operations at Khamisiyah. This message also tasked ARCENT to report the results of these site surveys by 12:00 noon on March 4, 1991.

Intelligence analysts at USCENTCOM developed this list of 17 sites from intelligence they collected during the air and ground war, as well as from information received from strategic-level intelligence agencies.[56] USCENTCOM analysts based their analytical assessment that the Khamisiyah ASP might be a chemical weapons storage site on the ASP’s very large size and their suspicion that it might be a special weapons storage site.[57] Similarly, USCENTCOM analysts may also have selected Tall al Lahm Storage Depot South as a possible chemical weapons storage site because of its size, as well as its proximity to elite Republican Guard Special Forces. Table 4 shows the 17 sites according to CIA’s categories of Large Storage Sites, Republican Guard Field Storage Sites, and Other Sites. Nevertheless, US soldiers did not find any chemical weapons there, nor did Iraq later declare to UNSCOM that chemical munitions had been stored there.[58]

Table 4. Suspected chemical/biological storage sites[59]

Large Storage Sites

Republican Guard Field Storage Sites

Other Sites

Rumaylah Ammo Storage Area SW Ammo Storage Site Tallil Air Base
Ash Shuaybah Ammo Storage Depot Ammo, Supply, and Hardened Bunkers Rumaylah Ammo Storage Area 1
Al Jazair Ammo Storage Area Ammo Storage Revetments Underground Storage Bunkers
Tall al Lahm Ammunition Storage Depot South Ammo Storage Site As Shuaybah Ammo Storage East
An Nasiriyah Ammunition Storage Depot Ammo Storage Site Ammo Revetments
Tall al Lahm Ammunition Storage Fence Secured Revetments  

DIA message identified 12-frame storage bunkers at Tall al Lahm Ammunition Storage Area (the Khamisiyah ASP).DIA sent a message stating that 12-frame bunkers were at Tall al Lahm Ammunition Storage Area. It stated that 12-frame storage bunkers "have a BW [biological warfare] association," but emphasized that "the number of twelve frame bunkers in Iraq is so large as to suggest roles in addition to BW storage. They could include storage for chemical, fuel air explosives, and sensitive electronics for weapons."[60] In other words, DIA indicated that Iraq may not have used 12-frame bunkers exclusively for the storage of biological warfare munitions. Interviews with hundreds of personnel revealed that engineers and EOD soldiers reported seeing only 12-frame bunkers at Khamisiyah.


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