A. Background

The narrative was initially published on October 30, 1997. Since that time, the Office of the Special Assistant for Gulf War Illnesses has not received any new information on the material presented, nor have any additional leads developed to change the narrative’s assessments. Additionally, the Presidential Special Oversight Board reviewed the narrative and recommended that the Office of the Special Assistant republish it as final. For this reason, this is a final report. See Tab E for changes included in this final report.

1. Tallil Air Base Description

Tallil Air Base[2] is located in southeastern Iraq, approximately 160 miles southeast of Baghdad and 140 miles northwest of Kuwait City (Figure 2). Its coordinates are:


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Figure 2.  Tallil Air Base and other selected Iraqi chemical warfare production and storage locations

Tallil played a prominent role during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War since it has two major runways and associated support facilities, including hardened bunkers to shelter aircraft and aircraft ordnance. This base (Figure 3) also has one of the S-shaped bunkers in which, during Desert Shield and Desert Storm, the intelligence community believed Iraq stored chemical weapons.[3] The An Nasiriyah Southwest Ammunition Storage Point (An Nasiriyah SW ASP) (Figures 2 and 3) located just northeast of Tallil Air Base is a separate installation. Many of the soldiers, airmen, and units at Tallil also conducted the same type of activities at this nearby ASP. These activities are described later in sections C and D and in another published case narrative, "An Nasiriyah Southwest Ammunition Storage Point, Final Report."[4]

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Figure 3.  Tallil Air Base

2. Iraq’s Air-Delivered Chemical Weapons Program

During the Iran-Iraq War, Iraq developed the ability to produce and store chemical weapons for use against Iranian targets. Iraq filled 250-kilogram and 500-kilogram aerial bombs with mustard blister agent and nerve agents like tabun and sarin.[5]

During the Iran-Iraq war, fighter-attack aircraft and helicopters from Tallil conducted numerous strikes—some using chemical weapons—against Iranian targets.[6] Reports indicate that Iraqi fighter-attack aircraft dropped mustard-filled and tabun-filled 250-kilogram bombs and mustard-filled 500-kilogram bombs on Iranian targets. Other reports indicate that Iraq’s helicopters may have dropped 55-gallon drums filled with unknown agents (probably mustard) from altitudes of 3,000-4,000 feet. The Iraqis also used spray systems consisting of two spray tanks (each with a 1,000-liter volume) attached to helicopters.[7]

Subsequently, Desert Shield and Desert Storm intelligence assessments indicated that Iraq’s aircraft had the capability to deliver mainly 250 and 500-kilogram bombs with chemical warfare agents. However, after the Gulf War, Iraq did not list in their chemical "Full, Final and Complete Disclosure" document that tabun was used as a fill for 250-kilogram bombs.[8] More significantly, at the start of the Gulf War, US intelligence believed Iraq stored chemical and biological weapons in certain types of bunkers[9] possessing ventilation, security, and/or structural characteristics not seen in facilities storing conventional weapons.[10] During the Iran-Iraq War, intelligence analysts identified newly constructed ammunition storage bunkers as likely repositories for chemical and biological weapons based on these characteristics. The intelligence community assessed the S-shaped bunker design as one of several types associated with chemical warfare munitions storage. Therefore, the intelligence community assessed Iraq’s 22 S-shaped bunkers, including the one located at Tallil, as part of its national chemical warfare storage capability.[11] However, after the war, the intelligence community learned that Iraq stored chemical weapons in a variety of bunkers, and sometimes in the open.

B.   Desert Storm

1. The Air War

Destroying chemical weapon production and storage areas was a priority during the Desert Storm air campaign of January 17-February 28, 1991.[12] In early February, an air strike inflicted moderate damage, including a partially collapsed roof, on Tallil’s S-shaped bunker.[13] To penetrate reinforced concrete bunkers, the US Air Force uses the BLU-109, a laser guided, 2,000-pound general-purpose bomb whose hardened steel casing allows it to penetrate several feet of earthen cover and reinforced concrete before detonating.[14] When detonation occurs within a confined space such as a reinforced concrete bunker, the blast blows a portion of the bunker’s contents through the doors, ventilation ducts, and the bomb’s own entry hole. If the contents are flammable or explosive, a secondary explosion usually results, which in most cases destroys the bunker and its contents. If the bunker contains nothing flammable or explosive, it often will survive partly or even completely intact, even though the blast may severely damage or destroy some of its contents. Depending on the type of contents and quantity, the bunker’s size, and the weapon’s entry angle and fusing, it is possible for some of a bunker’s contents to survive a BLU-109’s penetration and detonation.

A February 7, 1991, Defense Intelligence Agency message sums up the intelligence community’s assessment of where Iraq dispersed and stored their chemical warfare munitions stockpile after several weeks of Coalition air strikes:

We do not know with any degree of confidence where the Iraqis are storing their chemical weapons in the KTO [Kuwait Theater of Operations]. Traditionally, Iraq has not deployed its chemical weapons to forward based units until their use was imminent. Since the coalition’s bombing campaign against Iraqi chemical production, storage, and filling facilities began on January 17, 1991, it is believed that they have probably dispersed their sensitive chemical weapons stocks to improve survivability. The current whereabouts of their chemical inventory is unknown.[15]

2. The Ground War

At the start of the ground war, a message from the XVIII Airborne Corps warned subordinate units of their responsibility should they find suspected chemical and biological weapons:

Units who capture or find suspected chemical and/or biological munitions or material will not handle, move, or destroy them. Units will mark the location and, if possible, secure the area and identify the location to XVIII Corps G3 operations and supporting EOD teams. Iraqi 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 munitions may be stored with conventional munitions.

Units are currently not authorized to destroy chemical/biological munitions. EOD will have technical responsibility for control and disposition of chemical/biological munitions. Under no circumstances will chemical/biological weapons be retrograded out of Kuwait or Iraq into Saudi Arabia without COMUSARCENT approval.[16]

On February 27, 1991, at 1:30 PM local time, the 2nd Battalion, 69th Armor, 197th Infantry Brigade, 24th Mechanized Infantry Division raided Tallil Air Base, the first time in the Gulf War that US ground forces entered this facility. This action was a tactical feint designed to convince Iraq’s senior leadership that the 24th Mechanized Infantry Division intended to continue its drive north and cross the Euphrates river—when in fact, the 24th proceeded to the southeast toward the city of Basra.[17] This raiding force did not occupy or push off Iraq’s forces at Tallil. According to the commander of the 2nd Battalion, 69th Armor, his tanks penetrated only 600-700 yards into the base and stayed about 45-60 minutes and did not search or clear any bunkers during this action.[18] Short, but intense, the raid destroyed six fighter-attack aircraft, three helicopters, four self-propelled anti-aircraft artillery pieces, and two tanks.[19] While the 2nd Battalion, 69th Armor suffered no casualties, it left behind four vehicles immobilized by mechanical and terrain difficulties. The 2nd Battalion, 69th Armor then refueled south of Tallil at 5:30 PM before rejoining the 24th Mechanized Infantry Division’s drive toward Basra.[20]

The XVIII Airborne Corps called the area it would occupy in southern Iraq Area of Operations (AO) Bragg (Figure 4). It encompassed Tallil Air Base and An Nasiriyah SW ASP to the northwest, Khamisiyah ASP 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 74 which directed the 82nd Airborne Division to "clear enemy forces from AO Bragg and destroy all equipment" commencing by 10:00 AM on February 28, 1991.[21]

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Figure 4.  Area of Operation Bragg

C. Cease-fire and Occupation of Tallil

As 82nd Airborne Division units moved to their assigned sectors in AO Bragg,[22] the XVIII Airborne Corps repeated USCENTCOM commander’s announcement that offensive operations would end effective 8:00 AM on February 28, 1991.[23] After the cease-fire went into effect, 82nd Airborne Division units developed a psychological operations plan to convince the Iraq’s soldiers still occupying Tallil either to retreat northwest or to surrender without resistance.[24] The plan worked—82nd Airborne Division units secured the base on March 1 and 2, 1991, without major incident. 82nd Airborne Division units - particularly the 504th and 505th Parachute Infantry Regiments and other subordinate units (Tab B) - occupied Tallil Air Base and started the long process of identifying munitions and other materiel to destroy before departing. While many small infantry units performed impromptu demolition of fighting trenches, personnel bunkers, arms caches, and vehicles, C Company, 307th Engineer Battalion, with the technical advice and support of the 60th Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Detachment systematically destroyed most of the large quantities of munitions and major facilities. The 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment[25] with its 84th Engineer Company and the attached 82nd Engineer Battalion (no relationship to the 82nd Airborne Division) replaced the 82nd Airborne Division units when the 82nd Airborne Division units rotated out of the area on March 24, 1991.

Precision guided munitions already had hit many of Tallil’s facilities, especially hardened aircraft shelters and maintenance hangars (Figures 5, 6, and 7). Some of these attacks destroyed the facilities and their contents in place, while others initiated secondary explosions, scattering material and debris for considerable distances. Coalition aircraft also had seeded large areas of the base with US aerial mines (nicknamed ‘gators’) to impede aircraft and vehicles from using the airfield’s parking aprons, taxiways, and runways.[26]

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Figure 5.  Bomb damaged hardened aircraft shelters

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Figure 6.  Blast damaged aircraft maintenance hanger

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Figure 7.  Damaged entrance to hardened aircraft shelter


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