Presence of chemical weapons at Tallil Air Base determined 'unlikely'

WASHINGTON, May 25, 2000 (GulfLINK) - The Department of Defense released its final report, Tallil Air Base, Iraq, closing its investigation into Iraq's possible storage of chemical warfare agents or chemical weapons at Tallil airfield during Operation Desert Storm. Investigators from the Office of the Special Assistant for Gulf War Illnesses determined that it is unlikely chemical warfare agents or weapons were stored at the air base.

The case narrative was originally published as an interim report in December 1997. Since that time, the special assistant's office has found no new information or additional leads that contradict the assessment of the interim report. The report also found that the presence of chemical warfare agents or weapons at Tallil during the Gulf War was unlikely. Case narratives are part of DoD's efforts to inform the public about its investigations into the nature and possible causes for the illnesses experienced by some Gulf War veterans.

During the war, Tallil was targeted in Coalition air attacks as a likely storage site for chemical warfare agents and munitions. Intelligence analysts knew the base had been used as a launching site for chemical attacks against Iran during the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq War. Additionally, the base had a special S-shaped bunker that analysts assessed as specially constructed for storing chemical warfare agents and munitions. In February 1991, Coalition aircraft struck Tallil's S-shaped bunker with a 2,000-pound bomb. The bomb caused serious damage, partially collapsing the roof of the bunker.

After the Desert Storm cease-fire, elements of the 82nd Airborne Division occupied Tallil. Before their withdrawal from Iraq, U.S. forces destroyed the facilities, equipment and munitions at the air base. During the occupation, chemical warfare specialists searched Tallil using specialized chemical detection equipment including XM93 Fox nuclear, biological and chemical reconnaissance vehicles, chemical agent monitors and M256 chemical agent detection kits. They found no chemical weapons or chemical warfare agents. Explosive ordnance disposal teams also conducted searches, which included the S-shaped bunker.

More than 100 veterans who searched the bunkers or conducted demolitions at Tallil were interviewed for the report. The U.S. Army explosive ordnance disposal technician, who was likely the first person to enter the S-shaped bunker during the occupation, reported that no items that resembled either conventional or chemical munitions were found. He saw only debris, rubble and scorching from the 2,000-pound bomb used in the air strike. There was also no evidence of a secondary explosion that would have been expected had the bunker contained conventional munitions.

An Air Force explosive ordnance disposal technician who also searched the bunker for the expressed purpose of detecting chemical warfare munitions or agents found nothing but debris - no chemical munitions, chemical warfare agents and no residue or liquids. This technician also checked other bunkers on Tallil without finding any chemical munitions. Searchers did discover large quantities of chemical warfare related equipment, such as protective suits and antidote kits.

U.S. Army combat engineers and explosive ordnance disposal teams destroyed most of the bunkers and munitions discovered on Tallil. Air Force civil engineering teams and explosive ordnance disposal technicians destroyed the runways and taxiways and helped identify the recovered air-to-air and air-to-ground ordnance. None of these units saw any chemical weapons during their operations. Demolition teams did not wear chemical warfare protective gear. There were no reports of medical symptoms associated with nerve or blister agents and no reports of personnel seeking medical attention for suspected chemical warfare agent contact.

Some munitions bearing markings consistent with pre-war intelligence report descriptions of Iraq's chemical munitions were discovered at Tallil. However, explosive ordnance disposal experts had determined by this time that the intelligence reports were unreliable. Iraq apparently employed no standardized marking system. The experts relied upon their knowledge of weapons design to determine the nature of the munitions they discovered. Their assessment was that no chemical munitions were found.

Nearly 18 months after the withdrawal of U.S. forces, United Nations inspectors revisited Tallil Air Base. Chemical and biological weapons inspections teams re-investigated the S-shaped bunker but discovered no evidence of chemical warfare agents or munitions. Like the Army and Air Force experts that preceded them, the U.N. inspectors were not able to gain entry into the section of the bunker that had collapsed in the bombing. However, they noted that after the war, the Iraqis had cleared the undamaged area of the bunker and were using it for conventional munitions storage. If the Iraqis had stored chemical weapons or agents in the bunker at the time of the air strike, the resulting contamination would have required that they completely remove all debris, decontaminate the area and then rebuild before they could re-use the bunker. This was not done.

Based upon the assessments of military explosive ordnance disposal and chemical warfare specialists, the findings of the U.N. inspection teams, and the absence of any medical evidence for the presence of chemical warfare agents, it is unlikely Tallil Air Base was used as a storage site for chemical munitions or agents.

The investigation of Tallil Air Base is closed; however, if anyone believes they have information that may change this case narrative, they are encouraged to contact the special assistant's office by calling (800) 497-6261 or submitting a request via our e-mail address ( brostker@gwillness.osd.mil ). The entire Tallil Air Base case narrative may read on the GulfLINK website ( http://www.gulflink.osd.mil ).