Desert Shield and Desert Storm

The An Nasiriyah SW ASP, along with other Iraqi facilities suspected of storing CW or BW, was carefully monitored during Desert Shield. During the Desert Storm air campaign from January 17 to February 28, 1991, Iraq’s entire CW/BW research, production, and storage complex was a high priority target. Two munitions bunkers at the An Nasiriyah SW ASP were hit and destroyed by coalition air strikes on January 17, 1991. By the time of the cease-fire on February 28, 1991, approximately 22 of An Nasiriyah’s munition storage bunkers had been destroyed by aerial attacks. Some of these attacks left the structures partially intact, while secondary explosions completely destroyed others.[10]


The Cease-Fire and Occupation of the An Nasiriyah SW ASP

After the cease-fire went into effect during the morning hours of February 28, 1991, units of the 82nd Airborne Division convinced the Iraqi soldiers still occupying Tallil Air Base and the nearby An Nasiriyah SW ASP to vacate the area to the northwest or surrender without resistance. On March 1, 1991, units of the 82nd Airborne took control of the air base and nearby ASP without major incident. Units of the 82nd, including the 504th and 505th Parachute Infantry Regiments and other subordinate units, occupied both facilities and started the long process of identifying munitions and other materiel to be destroyed. While many small infantry units performed the impromptu demolition of fighting trenches, personnel bunkers, arms caches, and vehicles, most of the systematic demolition of large quantities of munitions and major facilities was performed by C Company, 307th Engineer Battalion, with the technical advice and support of the 60th Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Detachment. On March 24, 1991, the 82nd units rotated out of the area and were replaced by the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment (ACR), the 84th Engineer Company, and the 146th EOD Detachment.[11]

Many of the munitions bunkers at the An Nasiriyah SW ASP had already been hit in earlier air strikes by precision guided munitions. Some of these attacks destroyed the facilities and their contents, while others initiated secondary explosions, scattering material and debris for considerable distances. Because of the extensively scattered ordnance, one of the highest priorities of local US commanders was to identify hazardous areas. Potential CW sites and unexploded ordnance were of primary concern. Chemical Corps specialists from the 82nd Airborne Division conducted CW search operations with a full range of CW detection equipment (including two Fox reconnaissance vehicles), while the 60th EOD identified and started the long process of destroying intact Iraqi ordnance.[12]

It is important to remember when reading the veterans interviews cited in the next sections that the title, "An Nasiriyah SW ASP," was used both by the IC and Iraq - but not by US ground troops, who typically referred to it as Tallil, Tallil’s ASP, or Tallil’s bunkers. This was a result of this ASP’s geographic proximity to Tallil Air Base - at their closest point, their perimeter security fences are only 1 kilometer apart - and the fact that aircraft munitions for use by Tallil’s fighter-attack aircraft were stored in An Nasiriyah’s bunkers, storage buildings, and open air revetments (see Figure 3) . The Iraqi city of An Nasiriyah, after which the ASP is formally named, is located much further (approximately 10-15 kilometers) to the northeast (see Figure 2) . Most of this city is located on the northern side of the Euphrates River (which US troops did not occupy when the cease-fire was in effect) and is not "directly associated" with the ASP as is Tallil Air Base.


The Search for Chemical Weapons[13]

A March 23, 1991, message from the 82nd Airborne Division chemical officer to the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment chemical officer summarizes the search for chemical weapons at Tallil Air Base, An Nasiriyah SW, and Khamisiyah:

When the 82nd Abn Div initially occupied the sector, Fox vehicles and unit reconnaissance teams checked for evidence of contamination or chemical weapons. No contamination was found. Riot control agent CS was found in the Tall al Lahm [Khamisiyah] ASP (PV 3706). White phosphorus rounds were also found. Artillery rounds with fill plugs and central bursters were found. They were marked with a yellow band. They were empty. Other rounds in the area were marked similarly. Fox reconnaissance vehicles determined they contained TNT.[14]

Two interviews with this individual confirmed his message and provided additional information. The division chemical officer and all subordinate chemical personnel were intimately aware of the possibility of chemical munitions in-theater. If bunkers or ASPs were suspected of containing chemical munitions, personnel were instructed to utilize the chemical agent monitor (CAM). Although he could not confirm that CAMs were employed on every bunker search or suspect munition, the division chemical officer believed that CAMs were widely available and routinely used.[15]

The division chemical officer also recalled that, when the 307th Engineers attempted to destroy the western portion of the ASP, an insufficient amount of explosives was used. Rather than destroying the munitions, the explosion started a fire in one bunker. This fire began to "cook-off" munitions. Based on the signature of the igniting rounds, their whistling in flight, and impact craters, he believed most to be 122mm artillery rockets. Some of the rockets exploded near the command post. Since the wind was blowing towards this area, he deployed Fox vehicles and chemical detection equipment on a nearby ridge to monitor smoke coming over the command post. No chemical detections were made at this time or when the ASP was searched. The division chemical officer also stated that none of the assigned personnel reported symptoms of chemical exposure, nor did he hear of such reports.[16]

Interviews with a Brigade-level chemical officer of the 82nd who supervised ASP CW search activities[17] and two Fox vehicle crew members who surveyed this area, confirmed that no CW was found.[18] The 307th Engineer Battalion intelligence officer (S-2) was also interviewed. He did not receive any reports of CW in the vicinity and never took his Mission Oriented Protective Posture (MOPP) gear out of the bag. He was in the Tallil Air Base area for about a week and witnessed numerous demolition activities at the ASP.[19]

Because the Fox vehicle was not designed to survey bunkers, the CW search teams used hand-held testing systems - including M256 kits and CAMs - to check the bunker interiors. During an interview, a Fox vehicle crew member commented specifically on bunker searches. His vehicle was in the Tallil and An Nasiriyah ASP area for about two weeks; areas they searched included the airfield, hardened aircraft shelters, and munitions bunkers. Most of their sampling was done in the vicinity of munitions bunkers. Since the Fox was too large to enter these bunkers, they used hand-held CAMS. Most of the munitions he scanned were large tank or artillery shells. They did not have any positive readings during this survey.[20]

While several individuals interviewed reported that they encountered possible CW, their visual identifications were based on observed munitions color schemes like yellow or red bands, which were not reliable indicators of CW.[21] While performing munition identification, inventory, and demolition near the ASP (Figure 3), a senior member of the 60th EOD found a munition shape that had several of the physical characteristics of a chemical weapon, including thin, double-walled construction, a burster tube, and two yellow bands on the nose (see Figures 4A and 4B). He immediately departed the area and informed higher headquarters of the sighting. Two Fox reconnaissance vehicles were dispatched, surveyed the area, and found only high explosive (HE) residue.[22] No CW agents were detected.[23]


Figure 4A. Side view of suspected CW munition[24]


Figure 4B. Back view of suspected CW munition


While removing equipment and weapons from a Tallil warehouse near the An Nasiriyah SW ASP, one individual from the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment related that he became very nauseous and dizzy after being exposed to a white powder in a can.[25] The inhaled substance caused immediate vomiting, but the nausea only lasted one to three hours and was not severe. He did not report this incident or seek medical attention, and he did not report any lasting effects from this incident.[26] The unidentified powder could have been a number of different compounds, including a riot control agent, but the specific circumstances related during the interview make a follow-up determination impossible. At any rate, these symptoms are not consistent with exposure to any of the chemical warfare agents assessed to be in Iraq’s inventory.

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