Exposure To Poison Gas ‘Real Possibility’ Gulf War Commander Appears Before Senate Committee

THURSDAY, JAN. 30, 1997

American soldiers may have been exposed to Iraqi chemical weapons that Allied bombers destroyed near front-line positions during Operation Desert Storm, retired Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf said Wednesday.

The former Gulf War commander told a Senate panel that the bombing was needed to prevent the Iraqis from firing chemical weapons at his troops.

He said that no Allied troops showed symptoms of nerve-gas poisoning during the war. That, he said, makes chemical weapons alone an unlikely cause of the mysterious chronic ailments afflicting thousands of veterans.

But, Schwarzkopf added, American troops also were exposed to a mixture of insects, bacteria, vaccines, insecticides, potent insect repellents and oil-fire smoke.

“When you put all of this stuff together,” he said, “it’s something obviously has made them sick, and we need to cure them.”

The Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee received Schwarzkopf warmly. Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., repeatedly called the former commander a hero.

Some veterans’ groups expressed disappointment with Schwarzkopf’s testimony.

Paul Sullivan, a spokesman for the National Gulf War Resource Center, said he was gratified to hear that Schwarzkopf had said a “very real possibility” existed that U.S. bombing had set off Iraqi chemical weapons near American front lines.

“The Pentagon has vehemently denied this for years,” Sullivan said.

But he also noted that government documents contradict Schwarzkopf’s contention that there is no reliable evidence of chemical-weapons detections during the war.

Logs kept by Desert Storm’s chemical-warfare team noted repeated detections of chemicals near U.S. positions by a Czech team using sophisticated and sensitive equipment.

A log book entry for Jan. 23, 1991, says that after failing to confirm one of those Czech reports, a U.S. commander told his colleagues “to disregard any future reports coming from the Czechs.”

“Someone kept this log,” Sullivan said. “Who did they brief? … And what did they do with the information?”

A Senate investigator who reviewed some of Schwarzkopf’s personal notes said it appeared that the general was never informed of matters such as the Czech detections.

The Senate panel’s ranking Democrat, Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., said he was shocked to learn that Schwarzkopf had not been told that a drug American soldiers were ordered to take to build immunity to nerve gas had not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for that purpose.

“Obviously, I didn’t know about this,” Schwarzkopf said. “It’s a shock right now.”

Rockefeller also asked whether U.S. forces were under so much political pressure to withdraw so quickly from Iraq that they failed to take adequate precautions against exposure to chemical weapons at ammunition depots they were demolishing.

Schwarzkopf said that he thought his troops took proper precautions. But, he added, “We were under pressure to withdraw, and under the pressure of withdrawal we did destroy everything we could so that the Iraqis couldn’t fall back on it and use it in some other war against us.”

Only 148 Americans died in combat during the Gulf War. “To this day, I still consider it pretty close to a miracle,” Schwarzkopf said.

“And then to turn around and be faced with the fact that some of those troops were so seriously ill and some of them in fact were dying from something that may have happened over there. … Believe me, nobody feels worse about it than I do. Nobody wants to get an answer to it more than I do.”


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