CIA: Third chemical weapon incident in Gulf

March 18, 1997

From Correspondent Jamie McIntyre

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Central Intelligence Agency says it has now concluded that U.S. troops destroyed Iraqi chemical weapons in a previously unreported incident on March 12, 1991, shortly after the Persian Gulf War ended.

The disclosure of a third incident, in which U.S. troops could potentially have been exposed to trace amounts of nerve gas, came at a meeting Tuesday of the Presidential Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans' Illnesses in Salt Lake City.

Until now, the Pentagon has said it believed U.S. troops destroyed Iraqi chemical weapons on only two days in 1991.

One was on March 4, at Bunker 73 of the sprawling Kamisiyah ammunition storage facility in Southern Iraq. The other was on March 10, in an open pit a short distance away from the bunker.

But further investigation has led the CIA to conclude there was another demolition of nerve gas rockets in the same pit area on March 12, 1991.

The CIA believes that the demolition of about 650 Iraqi rockets containing chemical agents over two days, March 10 and 12, rather than on March 10 alone, means any fallout may have been less widespread.

CIA spokeswoman Carolyn Osborn explained that this raises the possibility that the cloud of gases created by the explosions was smaller and covered a narrower area than if all 650 rockets had been demolished at once, as previously believed.

Meantime, committee members expressed frustration to Robert Walpole, the head of a new CIA task force that has been working for months on a computer model. The CIA says it still is not ready to suggest an estimate of how many troops may actually have been exposed to nerve agents.

"Mr. Walpole, at some point you gotta fish or cut bait, and the time has long passed on this modeling," said presidential panel member James Turner.

"You can't throw your hands up in the air and say, 'there are too many uncertainties.' People deserve to know what the best estimate is that you can do, and they need it soon."

But the CIA says it needs more information, and it's hoping a grainy aerial photo of the Kamisiyah pit area -- showing a road, canal and sand berm -- will jog the memories of some soldiers and prompt them to come forward with more details.

The testimony did little to mollify some sick veterans.

"I think it's time the government got off their hind ends and actually done something -- instead of leaving all us vets hanging," said one Gulf War veteran.

Veterans' groups say whatever happened as Kamisiyah doesn't explain all the illnesses suffered by vets.

"Chemical weapons is not the only topic we should be focusing on. They're not the only possible cause for illness," Matt Puglisi of the American Legion.

In an effort to restore its lost credibility, the CIA has promised to declassify about 50 secret documents on the topic.

Walpole said the task force will finish its work in 60 days and "will ensure that every conceivable stone has been overturned. There will be no more dripping of information."

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