DoD Final Report Finds Chemical Exposure at An Nasiriyah Unlikely
WASHINGTON, January 13, 2000 (GulfLINK) - The Department of Defense today released its final report of events at the An Nasiriyah Southwest Ammunition Storage Point. The report, first published in July 1998, found it "unlikely" that chemical warfare agents were released during the aerial bombardment and subsequent ground demolition activities at An Nasiriyah, Iraq.
Since that time, the Office of the Special Assistant for Gulf War illnesses has received no new information which contradicts the material presented. And, the office has received no new leads that might change the narratives assessment, said Bernard Rostker, the Pentagon's point man for Gulf War related issues. In addition, the Presidential Special Oversight Board reviewed the narrative this past fall and recommended that the Defense Department republish the report as final.
"Our reports were interim - that is, we published what we knew about an issue or event with the intent to update or correct our findings if new information was brought forward. Veterans' eyewitness accounts have been an important component of our investigation. In this case, however, after more than 18 months, we have no new information that would lead us to another conclusion," Rostker said. "We still want veterans to look at and comment on this narrative. If there is new information that will change our findings, we would like veterans to contact us."
The ammunition storage facility was located south of the city of An Nasiriyah and approximately eight miles northeast of Tallil air base. It consisted of two separately fenced storage areas - one contained more than 100 concrete storage bunkers, which stored primarily army munitions. The other contained a smaller number of similar storage bunkers, buildings and open revetments; it stored primarily air force munitions.
Following the Gulf War, Iraqi officials told the United Nations Special Committee on Iraq - UNSCOM - that mustard-filled 155mm artillery shells were present at this facility during the Desert Storm air campaign. However, they said the weapons were removed prior to the U.S. post-war occupation. The U.S. and UNSCOM post-war inspections for chemical weapons at this facility found nothing, making it "unlikely" that chemical warfare agents were released there either during or after Desert Storm, the report said.
In a press briefing in August 1998, Rostker explained that Iraq's An Nasiriyah Southwest Ammunition Storage Point was a major Iraqi munitions depot during the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq War. During Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, the U.S. national intelligence community (composed of the Defense Intelligence Agency, military intelligence assets and other inter-agency intelligence offices) associated the storage of chemical or biological weapons with specific types of bunkers. Analysts referred to these as S-shaped and 12-frame types. The facility at An Nasiriyah had one S-shaped bunker and four 12-frame storage bunkers.
The S-shaped bunker and all four 12-frame storage bunkers were struck by air-delivered ordnance during the air campaign, Rostker said, and by February 3, 1991, had been either heavily damaged or destroyed. The intelligence community believed that their pre-war assessments of which bunker types were used to store chemical and biological weapons were inaccurate, and that during Desert Storm, these five bunkers did not contain chemical or biological weapons.
"Our assessment remains unchanged," Rostker said. "While Iraq declared that Bunker 8 contained mustard-filled artillery munitions, this bunker was not struck during the air campaign. The release of chemical warfare agents due to bombing remains unlikely."
During the cease-fire and prior to the withdrawal of U.S. troops, this facility was searched by U.S. ground forces. No chemical weapons were found and Bunker 8 was destroyed by demolition charges. Rostker said that during this five-week period, none of the explosive ordnance disposal and combat engineer personnel conducting demolition activities wore chemical weapon protective gear. None, he said, reported or sought medical attention for symptoms of blister or nerve agent exposure.
Prior to this search, the Iraqis had transported the 6,000 mustard-filled artillery rounds to an open storage site approximately five kilometers west of the Khamisiyah storage site and covered them with a tan tarp.
The mustard rounds remained there, undisturbed, until Iraq declared them to UNSCOM, Rostker said. In October 1991, the special committee inventoried the shells and found them to be intact - and filled with mustard agent. They later destroyed them at Al Muthanna, Iraq, under the provisions of the Security Council resolution.
This is the second final case narrative released by the Defense Department since the special assistant's office was created in November 1996 and are available in the case narrative section of GulfLINK. Rostker reiterated the need for veterans' feedback.
"As you look through the materials, if you have comments, corrections or any information that will help us better understand the events that occurred at An Nasiriyah - or any other location in the Gulf - we would like to hear from you. Please contact my office by telephone through our hotline at (800) 497-6261 or by e-mail at email@example.com."