An internal Pentagon investigation has determined that the CIA provided the Army with detailed warnings more than five years ago that American troops might have been exposed to nerve gas in the demolition of an Iraqi ammunition depot shortly after the Persian Gulf War.
But because of errors by the Army, the information was not confirmed at the time. It was only last year that the Pentagon acknowledged publicly that U.S. soldiers had blown up the depot in March 1991, and that more than 20,000 troops may have been exposed to a cloud of nerve gas and other chemical weapons as a result.
Two newly declassified CIA reports undermine the Pentagon’s repeated assertion that the possibility of chemical exposure of American troops at the depot was brought to the military’s attention only last year, and that there had been no delay in following up on the information.
In fact, the documents show that the agency informed the Army in November 1991 that U.N. investigators had visited the ruins of the Kamisiyah ammunition depot in southern Iraq the month before and found damaged rockets filled with sarin, a nerve gas.
The CIA told the Army that the investigators had found direct evidence that American soldiers might have carried out the demolition: the U.N. uncovered an empty American-issue crate with markings suggesting that it had held American military demolition charges used to destroy the depot.
According to one of the November 1991 reports, the Army was warned of “the risk of chemical contamination” of American troops as a result of the demolition. But the Army failed to conduct a thorough investigation, and the information was put aside for more than four years.
The reports offer no new clues to the mystery of whether chemical weapons might be responsible for the health problems reported by thousands of Gulf War veterans; many veterans suspect so, but the scientific evidence on the issue is conflicting.
The documents do, however, raise new suspicions about the credibility of the Pentagon and the CIA on the issue.
As part of a renewed investigation of possible chemical exposure during the Gulf War, the CIA provided copies of the reports to the Pentagon last March, and the documents remained hidden in files of the two agencies last year even as officials vowed that all information on the incident at Kamisiyah had been made public.
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