Powell: Didn't get CIA's chemical weapons warning

April 17, 1997

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Colin Powell, the top U.S. general during the 1991 Gulf War, said Thursday that he did not receive a CIA warning that chemical weapons might be present when U.S. troops blew up Iraqi arms dumps after the war.

The CIA said Wednesday that it had warned U.S. forces in advance that there might be chemical weapons at Iraq's Kamisiyah weapons dump, which U.S. troops blew up after the war.

But the warning did not filter down to troops at the demolition site.

Army Col. Robert Flowers -- who was at Kamisiyah -- told the House Veterans Affairs Committee on Wednesday that he and his fellow soldiers had not been made aware of the potential danger. Flowers, now a general, suffers from a sleeping disorder.

Though the Pentagon is not certain, top officials say evidence points to the likelihood that the Iraqi shells blown up in March 1991 contained deadly sarin nerve gas.

'Shouted from the rooftops'

Had he known that chemical weapons were present, "I would have shouted it from the rooftops," Powell told the Senate Veterans Committee.

The retired general said it was "outrageous" that CIA intelligence identifying Kamisiyah as a suspected chemical weapons storage site did not reach troops in the field.

"If I was still in office, I would be raping and pillaging to get to the bottom of this," Powell testified.

No personal knowledge of chemical weapons use

For his part, Powell said he did not personally see any evidence during the war -- and has seen none since -- indicating that Iraq unleashed chemical weapons on U.S. troops.

But Powell, who was chairman of the U.S. military joint chiefs of staff during the war, told the senators that he had to assume at the start of the war that Iraq would use chemical weapons against U.S. troops since it had used them against Iran and its own people.

"I reject any suggestion that somehow we were indifferent to our troops," Powell said.

The Defense Department has said the demolition of shells at the Kamisiyah weapons dump could have exposed 20,000 U.S. troops to chemical weapons, though there is no proof that any were in fact exposed.

Military Affairs Correspondent Jamie McIntyre and Reuters contributed to this report.

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