H. An Nasiriyah Biological Sampling Mission

A task force from the 513th Military Intelligence Brigade reported the following on this biological sampling mission:

1. Significant activities for 7 March 1991:
a. Nuclear, Biological, Chemical: On 6 Mar the [513th Military Intelligence] Brigade chemical officer, the CENTCOM Medical Intelligence officer, and a sampling team from the 9th Chemical Company acted upon a request from CENTCOM J2 to sample a suspected biological warfare storage bunker, vicinity of An Nasiriyah, IZ [Iraq]. The team flew to the bunker complex which appears to have been destroyed by "special munitions" [Precision Guided Munitions]. The team took soil samples, a solidified substance exuding from a projectile, and some liquid present in one of the bunkers. The samples have been sent to a CONUS laboratory for analysis.[50]

Investigators located and interviewed all four UH-60/Black Hawk crew members who transported the sampling mission team to the An Nasiriyah SW ASP.[51] Due to the similar geographic locations and bunker types, two of the Black Hawk’s crew members believed that they might have flown to Khamisiyah.[52] In 1991, even the intelligence community confused the An Nasiriyah SW ASP and the Khamisiyah ASP.[53]   In any case, the Black Hawk sampling team departed Kuwait International Airport on March 6, 1991, and flew to Tallil and the ASP. Weather hindered navigation with light rain, blowing sand, and limited visibility. The mission was on the ground at the ASP for approximately two hours.[54]

The Black Hawk co-pilot remembers that the decision to support this mission was made on short notice.[55] The sampling team members did not wear any insignia or identifying patches.[56] The sampling location was a bunker located several miles east of Tallil Air Base. The ASP coordinates were programmed into Black Hawk’s Doppler radar navigation system. However, when they flew to the programmed location, the gusty wind and poor visibility made it difficult to find the site. They then flew to Tallil, reoriented, and flew back to the correct site. The ASP bunker complex had been hit by numerous bombs, which scattered munitions about the area. The co-pilot also noticed that there were shells in the area that had an unknown residue on them. The sampling team donned MOPP 4[57] and departed the landing site to test and sample. While they were waiting, some of the aircrew discovered that one of the bunkers was wired for demolition, with explosives and detonation cord fixed to boxes of 155mm artillery shells. (Figures 5A and 5B.) After they went back to the helicopter, a Humvee with two people came up - neither were in MOPP gear. They talked with the sampling team members while the team burned their MOPP gear. When the sampling team finished, they boarded the Black Hawk and departed.[58]

This sampling mission was the subject of a July 23, 1995, Belleville, Illinois News-Democrat article, Gulf War Veteran Details his Illness. In it, the Black Hawk’s crewchief is quoted at length about his observations and his concern that his current health problems were caused by this mission.[59] This investigation’s interview with the door gunner revealed similar concerns.[60]

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Figure 5A. Black Hawk crew members in front of a bunker at An Nasiriyah SW ASP


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Figure 5B. Demolition rigging inside a bunker at An Nasiriyah SW ASP


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Figure 5C. Biological warfare agent sample team members discarding MOPP gear


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Figure 5D. Burning MOPP gear of biological warfare agent sample team at An Nasiriyah SW ASP  [61]

The 513th Military Intelligence (MI) Brigade chemical officer who was in charge of the chemical and biological warfare agent sampling team remembers taking another officer and two enlisted technicians on this mission. The mission was to look for evidence of biological warfare agent production and take samples at a suspected biological weapons bunker, which he discovered had been obliterated ("it was a hole in the ground") by a direct hit from an aerial-delivered precision guided munition. They took several samples for laboratory testing. While in the ASP, the team ran into several other explosive ordnance disposal personnel or engineers, one of whom was an officer, rigging the bunkers for demolition. Before departing, the team burned their MOPP gear as a precaution against contaminating the Black Hawk (Figure 5C and 5D). This was done at the request of the helicopter crew. No one briefed the 513th Military Intelligence Brigade chemical officer on the results of the laboratory tests conducted back in the United States.[62]

The second officer on the team, a medical intelligence officer assigned to the Armed Forces Medical Intelligence Center (AFMIC), remembered that, due to poor visibility, damage from aerial bombing, and the munitions scattered throughout the area, the team had a difficult time locating the right area, as well as a good spot to land. The 513th Military Intelligence Brigade chemical officer took random samples in the area; the medical intelligence officer did not personally collect any samples. As a former artillery officer, the medical intelligence officer was familiar with chemical artillery round characteristics and did not observe any chemical weapons in the area. As he walked through the area inspecting debris, destroyed munitions, and damaged bunkers, he saw melted high explosive powder canisters and "artillery caps" on the ground. No one briefed this medical intelligence officer on the laboratory testing results from this or any of his other missions.[63]

One of the senior enlisted members of the 9th Chemical Detachment’s biological warfare agent sampling team indicated that the teams were sent anywhere that intelligence indicated the presence of possible chemical or biological warfare agents. He went through a number of buildings and bunkers in various locations during Desert Storm and the cease-fire period, and none of the tests he conducted yielded positive results. A sergeant accompanied him on the March 6, 1991, Tallil/An Nasiriyah SW ASP sampling mission. They took only their M256 chemical warfare agent testing kits; none of their XM2 or PM-10 biological warfare agent testing equipment. The major who sent them on the ASP mission made the decision on what to test. After they arrived, they tested the selected bunker. The M256 readings registered negative and the senior enlisted member did not observe any artillery shells with an unusual appearance—which, as a qualified technical expert, he would have noticed. He also mentioned that it was only after the mission that he learned the bunker was associated with biological weapons.[64]

Several of those interviewed mentioned that they were greeted at the landing site by an engineer who warned them that these remaining ASP bunkers were being wired for demolition, and that they should exercise caution.[65] One of those interviewed was the operations officer for the headquarters and headquarters company, 307th Engineer Battalion.[66] The battalion personnel had been conducting demolition operations in the ASP since March 1, 1991, without wearing MOPP gear.[67] There was no advance notice that the sampling team was coming. After the team landed, the operations officer walked over to the helicopter and a chemical corps major came out of the helicopter in MOPP 4. The chemical officer related that the sampling team had received some reports about leaking shells in the ASP. The operations officer answered that he had not seen anything of the sort, and told the team on the helicopter that the depot was being rigged to be blown. The helicopter then left.[68]

The 9th Chemical Detachment and its biological warfare agent sampling mission was attached to the Foreign Materiel Intelligence Battalion (FMIB). The FMIB, a part of the 513th Military Intelligence (MI) Brigade, was used to form the Joint Captured Material Exploitation Center (JCMEC).[69] The JCMEC operations officer and the 9th Chemical Detachment commander developed a list of potential biological warfare agent sampling locations, which was then reviewed by the 513th MI Brigade operations officer and Brigade chemical officer. Prior to conducting operations, these sampling sites were also coordinated with division intelligence. According to the JCMEC commander, all of the collected samples tested negative.[70]

Investigators interviewed the JCMEC operations officer about biological warfare agent sampling and the mission to the An Nasiriyah SW ASP. He stated that he normally determined the biological weapons sampling criteria, procedures, and tasking from US unit locational data passed from joint operations. Based on the proximity to US forces, the operations officer (i.e., himself) divided the 9th Chemical Detachment into teams for each region. The detachment had experimental air samplers for biological weapons sampling positioned at Riyadh, Dharhan, and King Khalid Military City - locations selected because of weather patterns and the locations of US forces. The detachment also collected soil samples. According to the JCMEC operations officer, the teams sent these samples to Ft. Detrick, Maryland, for laboratory testing. The detachment teams took samples from approximately 30 to 60 in-theater locations.[71]

The US Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) at Ft. Detrick, Maryland tested five samples collected at the An Nasiriyah SW ASP for biological warfare agents. One was liquid from an artillery shell, one was a liquid from a different artillery shell, and three were soil samples from two different bunker sites (within the ASP). All five samples tested negative for substances associated with biological weapons.[72] The chief of the Special Pathogens Branch of USAMRIID, whose unit tested biological samples during the war, told investigators that they never found biological warfare agents in any of the samples they analyzed.[73]

I. Oozing Munitions

While at least one of the Black Hawk crew members thought that the oozing munition(s) he observed in the ASP was unusual,[74] it is not unheard of for artillery munitions to leak, exude, or be at least partially covered with a brownish substance.[75] At least one 307th Engineer member mentioned seeing this phenomenon when rigging bunkers at Tallil and the An Nasiriyah SW ASP. He described some of the 155mm artillery rounds stored inside these bunkers as "oozing a brownish sap."[76]

A review of the 60th Explosive Ordnance Disposal Detachment Incident Journal indicates that a major demolition occurred on March 5, 1991 - less than 24 hours before the arrival of the Black Hawk and the biological warfare agent sampling mission on March 6, 1991. This "blow," on March 5, 1991, was much larger than any that preceded it in this ASP, and included the demolition of several munition types with increased burning action. This "blow" is also notable for being the first that involved large numbers of rockets: 1,000 132mm Soviet-built high explosive anti-tank and 1,100 122mm Soviet high explosive artillery rockets.[77] These specific rocket types are significant because this demolition, only four days after the ASP was occupied, matches the 82nd Airborne Division chemical officer’s comments about 122mm rockets "cooking off" and landing near his command post.[78, 79]

In order to understand this information and to answer related questions about munition cook offs, munitions oozing a brownish substance, and fizzing munitions, the Naval Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technical Center, Indian Head, Maryland, provided a technical review. The Center’s assessment covered several situations in which it might be "normal" for an artillery munition to leak or ooze materials when subjected to high heat or pressure environments like those found in an ASP demolition.[80] Of particular interest was the 60th EOD Detachment Incident Journal indicating that the March 5, 1991, demolition included over 26,000 155mm high explosive projectiles.[81] According to the Naval Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technical Center assessment:

Undamaged artillery projectiles and rockets that are stored correctly should not leak or present any unusual problems. However, damaged ammunition involved in an explosion and/or subjected to intense heat could experience some leaking or exudation of the munition filler through the fuze cavity or cracks in the munition case that developed during the explosion. Undamaged munitions that are subjected to intense heat, i.e., involved in a fire, could build sufficient internal pressure to cause some of the munition filler to exude through the fuze cavity.[82]

The Naval Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technical Center also indicated that a visible residue, and possibly a sputtering or fizzing noise, may also be present when non-explosive fillers vent:

If the munition is filled with a smoke agent, such as White Phosphorus (WP), exposure to air will cause the WP to react, resulting in the burning of the WP with a sputtering (fizzing?) sound and formation of white smoke. Leaking WP will eventually form a crust at the leak point that will cut off the air supply, stopping the reaction. Color of the crust can vary from a light orange to a rusty-brown color.[83]

A brownish residue may also have been a result of the manner in which the munitions were packed, transported, and stored.[84] The 60th EOD Detachment Incident Journal indicates that the March 5, 1991, demolition included over 16,000 Soviet 152mm artillery projectiles.[85] According to the Naval Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technical Center assessment:

Some artillery ammunition manufactured by countries of the Former Soviet Union [Russia] and the Far East are shipped and stored with plastic fuze well plugs that are colored light blue, black, brown, or reddish-brown. Plug materials may be plastic, bakelite, or phenolic. If the munition was exposed to sufficient heat, the plastic plug could melt and resolidify, giving the impression of something oozing out of the munition.

Some projectiles and cartridge cases, ranging from 57MM [sic] and larger, have a thin layer of brown preservative grease applied to the projectile body and cartridge case.... Projectile fuze wells have been known to contain a thick layer of brown grease to protect the fuze-well threads, and the heating of this grease may cause it to run and possibly give the impression of a leaking munition.[86]

J. Demolition Activities

The combat engineers who assisted the 60th EOD Detachment in destroying facilities and munitions were primarily from C Company, 307th Engineer Battalion.[87] Investigators have interviewed more than 30 engineers from this unit, including platoon leaders, the executive officer, the intelligence officer, and the 307th Engineer Battalion commander.[88] Destroying captured munitions is not normally part of their combat duties, but because of the large quantities at this ASP, explosive ordnance disposal personnel gave the engineers on-the-job training and put them to work rigging explosives.[89] During interviews with C Company engineers, they consistently reported that they did not knowingly rig chemical weapon munitions for demolition and had no first-hand knowledge of chemical warfare agent being discovered.[90]

From approximately March 3 to March 10, 1991, the commander of the 307th Engineer Battalion was present at Tallil and the adjacent ASP area.[91] Due to the cease-fire, the presence of two Fox vehicles conducting reconnaissance operations in the ASP vicinity,[92] and the absence of a specifically identified chemical weapon threat, the engineers and EOD technicians conducting demolition operations used a limited number of M8 chemical alarms and M256 kits.[93] The day before his arrival, the 307th Engineer Battalion commander remembers receiving a division intelligence report of a probable chemical facility at Tallil. He remembers receiving no other specific chemical weapon warnings for either the air base or ASP. Since the 82nd Airborne Division chemical corps technicians had already cleared the area, his subordinates did not wear chemical warfare agent protective gear while at the ASP.[94] The engineer and EOD teams destroyed army munitions, which included small arms ammunition, mortar rounds, anti-tank rockets, artillery rockets, artillery rounds, anti-aircraft artillery rounds, tank ammunition, and explosives. They also destroyed aircraft munitions (Figure 6), which included general purpose bombs, cluster munitions, incendiary bombs, unguided rockets, air-to-air, and air-to-ground missiles. A 307th Engineer Battalion operations summary reported that they also destroyed 18 aircraft (Figure 7). None of the engineer or EOD teams reported destroying any chemical weapons.[95]

Figure 6. Aerial munitions awaiting demolition   [96]

While C Company, 307th Engineers and the 60th EOD Detachment personnel performed the majority of bunker demolition work at Tallil and the ASP, several other units were also involved. US Air Force Explosive Ordnance Disposal technicians from the 1703rd EOD Detachment destroyed unexploded ordnance and identified specific air-to-air and air-to-ground ordnance for shipment to rear areas. Investigators interviewed several of these individuals; none of them saw any chemical weapons.[97] Units of the 82nd Airborne Division organized demolition operations at Tallil Air Base and the An Nasiriyah ASP beginning on March 2, 1991, and continuing through approximately March 23, 1991.[98]

Figure 7. Destroyed fighter near the ASP

On approximately March 24, 1991, units of the 82nd Airborne Division (including C Company, 307th Engineer Battalion and the 60th EOD Detachment) rotated out of the area and were replaced by the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment and its supporting units, which included the 84th Engineer Company and the 146th EOD Detachment.[99] The logs of the 146th EOD Detachment indicate that the new units continued to destroy substantial quantities of munitions and that demolition operations at Tallil and the An Nasiriyah SW ASP continued into April 1991.[100] In interviews with the commander of the 146th EOD Detachment, he stated that he supervised the destruction of large quantities of army and air force ordnance, bunkers, aircraft, and facilities, but he did not see any evidence of chemical warfare agent presence.[101]

The largest and most controversial of the demolitions at An Nasiriyah SW ASP[102]   (Figure 8) occurred on April 2, 1991, at approximately 7:30 PM. The former commander of the 84th Engineer Company described the situation:

On the 2nd of April ... [a]bout 7:30, 1930 in the evening, it was dark by then. On that particular day it was fairly cold and so I think all the atmospheric conditions contributed to people hearing it and seeing it for a long, long way.... It [demolition debris] was pretty much confined to the area, but some of the stuff that we rigged were in open air pits, to use this word. [The munitions] were not stored in bunkers, [they] were just racks of bombs that the EOD guys said were aviation bombs had been moved out of Tallil just to get them out of like the ready racks into some real quick kind of hasty [revetments] scrape up some dirt and lay them out in the open. These had fuel air mixtures and kind of things, incendiaries, so when this went off ... These incendiaries looked like nuclear explosions, they had fireballs at the base, big column going up of fire, and another mushroom type top at the top.[103]

A 146th Explosive Ordnance Disposal Detachment Journal entry lists this particular event and the types of munitions blown in place on March 30, at 6:00 AM local.[104] However, because the date of entry in the journal appears out of chronological sequence, and veterans’ accounts and other operational logs support the April 2 date, investigators are confident that this March 30 date and time are incorrect and that the demolition actually occurred on April 2.[105] The types and quantities of munitions listed correspond to the event described by the 84th Engineer Company commander.[106] The first 15 entries are for several thousand aircraft-delivered munitions, including Soviet FAB-250s (500-pound general purpose bombs), FAB-500s (1,000-pound general purpose bombs), US Mk83s (1,000-pound general purpose bombs), French Belugas (cluster bombs), and several types of Spanish incendiary munitions.[107] The correct date for this event - April 2, 1991, at approximately 7:30 PM - is confirmed in another account of this demolition by a 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment unit which gives additional details:

02 Apr 91: At approximately 1945 hours [7:45 PM], the Dynamite Base Camp [call sign of the 82nd Engineer Battalion] is alerted by the sound of a tremendous explosion originating from somewhere north. The Battalion and Regimental [2nd ACR] FM [radio] nets begin sounding like a late night radio talk show with everyone sending spot reports and everyone requesting updated information. Within a short period of time, a new series of explosions lit up the sky with a fireball that is easily 800 feet high … After the third set of explosions, information begins coming over the Regimental command net that the explosions are originating from the Tallil Airfield and are a result of an EOD team destroying ammunition and ordnance at the airfield.[108]

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Figure 8. Photo of Ammunition Storage Point demolition on April 2, 1991.  [109]

An interview with the 210th Field Artillery Brigade executive officer, who was in the vicinity, also attests to the size of this demolition and the impact it had on those who witnessed it. The executive officer and his brigade commander were walking outside in the late afternoon or evening when they saw a tremendous yellowish fireball to the northeast. They both thought they saw a nuclear detonation, with a mushroom cloud following. They ordered their men to don MOPP 4, which they were in for about an hour, until word came on their tactical radio net that US engineers had caused the explosion.[110]

K. UNSCOM Inspection Findings

A May 1996 UNSCOM inspection of the An Nasiriyah SW ASP provided valuable insights into the activities at this facility during January and February of 1991. Due to the importance of these events, several paragraphs of the intelligence message detailing this inspection report are quoted:

……. An Nasiriyah Storage Depot. The purpose of the inspection of An Nasiriyah was to document events surrounding the receipt, storage, and removal of approximately 6,000 155mm Iraqi HD [mustard] munitions [Figure 9] moved to An Nasiriyah in the mid 910100 [January 1991] time-frame. [111]

The inspection team observed that 12 to 14 bunkers were in use at this site, 22 had been destroyed by Coalition bombing, and over 20 had been destroyed by occupation forces.

… The inspection team’s discussion with the Iraqi representatives centered around the delivery, storage, and movement of HD [mustard] munitions from Al Muthanna [Samarra] to this site in 910100 [January 1991], specifically the following:
  • Approximately 6,000 munitions were moved from Al Muthanna [Samarra] to An Nasiriyah between 910110 [January 10, 1991] and 910115 [January 15, 1991].
  • Also in bunker eight there were a relatively small number of 120mm HE [High Explosive] mortar rounds and 7.9mm ball small arms ammunition.
  • The munitions were removed from bunker eight and An Nasiriyah over a one-week period around 910215 [February 15, 1991] and placed in the open area near Khamisiyah (Tal Al Lahm)//geocoord: 304605.3N 0462276.1E//. The inspection team examined this site and discovered no evidence of remaining munitions of any type. There is, however, a recently constructed canal adjacent to the dump site [112]

In addition to Bunker 8, the UNSCOM inspection team investigated other bunkers at An Nasiriyah SW ASP, including the remains of the S-shaped bunker and the four 12-frame bunkers. The inspectors found no evidence of chemical or biological warfare agent storage in any of these bunkers. UNSCOM also determined that Iraq built the 12-frame bunkers to store sensitive explosives, e.g., detonation charges, detonators, TNT, etc. At the end of the inspection, and after comparing Iraq’s declarations in their chemical weapon Full, Final, and Complete Disclosure with the on-site evidence, the inspectors concluded that:

In summary, there was no indication that there are currently CW [chemical warfare] munitions stored at this site. Furthermore, there is no evidence, either physical or as a result of discussions with Iraqi representatives, that there were CW munitions stored here in addition to those 6,000 HD [mustard 155mm artillery] munitions indicated above.[113]

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Figure 9. Iraqi 155mm mustard shells near the Khamisiyah Ammunition Storage Point

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