Analysis of the Incidents

The focus of this section will be on the Fox alert. However, most of this section presents facts and analysis that are applicable to all seven alerts. This analysis can be separated into three areas:

1) Did Iraq have the capability to use chemical agents—particularly blister agents like Mustard and Lewisite— in Kuwait near Al Jaber?

2) If a detector did alert to possible agent presence, could the detector have registered a false alarm?

3)Did attempts at confirmation supply any additional information that aids in confirmation or denial of a detection?

Analysis of Iraqi Chemical Weapons Capabilities

The Iraqi armed forces could deliver chemical weapons in a variety of ways: artillery, aircraft, and surface-to-surface missiles. Although U.S. intelligence reported that chemical mines also might be used, none were found by the United Nations (UN) Special Commission, coalition military forces, or civilian Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD) teams; over 300,000 conventional (non-chemical) mines were cleared from Kuwait.[81] In response to a question of the Presidential Advisory Committee asking if there was any evidence that Iraq deployed any land mines that had chemical weapons, Mr. Mitrokhin representing UNSCOM said, "We've seen nothing, absolutely nothing."[82] Iraq did produce and deploy Mustard munitions within Iraq borders, with the closest chemical munitions found 200 kilometers away at Khamisiyah. Iraq used Mustard munitions during the war with Iran (1983 - 1988). No Lewisite was found in the Iraqi inventory by the UN Special Commission after the war.[83]

As noted above, the Iraqi Army had 155mm artillery for Mustard delivery. After the war, UN Inspection Teams found and destroyed 12,792 Mustard filled 155mm projectiles in Iraq.[84] No other Mustard ground delivery munitions were located. Most of the Marines interviewed noted the absence of Iraqi 155mm artillery near the base. All available Marine EOD records show no Iraqi 155mm ammunition was found or destroyed in this area after the war. Additionally, EOD did not find any chemical munitions in the vicinity of Al Jaber. However, the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) cannot definitively give the location of all Iraqi 155mm artillery pieces in Kuwait at the time of the event, so there is a possibility that there were some within shelling range of Al Jaber on the night of February 25. These systems did have non-chemical roles and conventional (non-chemical) 155mm ammunition may have been found in an ammunition supply point near Kuwait City.[85]

Iraqi aircraft did not fly ground attack sorties after January 25th.[86] This rules out the possibility of an air-delivered chemical strike on February 25th. Additionally, no SCUD Surface-to-Surface Missiles were fired during the period in question.[87]

DIA has made the following statement:

Our current understanding is that Iraq did not deploy CW into Kuwait during the Gulf War. The furthest south Iraqi CW has been found is at Khamisiyah, Iraq.[88]

There are several reasons to believe that the Iraqis never deployed CW into Kuwait. First, there is no confirmed evidence that they did so. Neither Kuwait nor the explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) companies assisting the Kuwaitis have reported finding any CW during cleanup operations. Iraqi troops stationed in Kuwait often did not have the best CW defensive equipment. This indicates they were not prepared to fight in a contaminated environment.

The Iraqis also feared U.S. retaliation if they used chemical weapons, and may have decided to use them only if the regime’s survival were threatened. This would explain why Iraq deployed CW to Khamisiyah and An Nasiriyah, but not to Kuwait. Finally, Iraq’s most well-trained and trusted forces, the Republican Guard - who were in Iraq, not Kuwait - were the units best equipped to deliver CW. Therefore, it is reasonable to conclude that any CW were stored behind these forces, not in front of them.[89]

Fox Detection and Confirmation

The Fox vehicle used by U.S. forces during Operation Desert Storm was a sophisticated chemical warfare agent detector. According to the manufacturer, it is possible that smoke from the nearby oil well fires could have resulted in a "false positive" detection for chemical warfare agents.[90] Only a thorough analysis of the printed tape can provide positive verification.

Unfortunately, the MM-1 tape is lost. It is possible to retrieve a spectrum from the Fox, since the last 72 spectra are saved in the MM-1’s memory. In 1994, in response to questions raised by Congress, the Army dispatched a team to read the memory of all of the Desert Storm-era Fox vehicles. GySgt Grass’s Fox Vehicle (#5604) was located and inspected in Okinawa. A memorandum states:

No spectra or extra substances were found in USMC S/N 5604 which was the vehicle which reported Lewisite and benzyl bromide detections during ODS.[91]

The absence of spectra could have been the result of routine maintenance done by an MM-1 operator. Two frequently performed maintenance procedures erase all data on previously performed spectra.

Other Attempts At Confirmation

Task Force Ripper’s M256 testing for all seven of the incidents resulted in no positive detections of chemical agents being reported to the Task Force Ripper NBC Officer. The procedures the Task Force operated under would have required that he be informed of a positive detection. Again, it should be noted that according to US Army Chemical and Biological Defense Command (CBDCOM), when it comes to detecting Mustard, the M256 is over one hundred times more sensitive than the Fox’s "Air-Hi" method.[92]

The Fox crew’s physical reaction during the alarm is noteworthy. There were no casualties and no one recalls any garlic (Mustard) or fruity/germanium (Lewisite) smells characteristic of those chemical agents.[93]

The quantity of Mustard required for the MM-1 to alert in the "Air-Hi" method would be substantial. This amount of Mustard should have caused (at the least) blisters on the unprotected skin of the men on the Fox’s roof and the others on the ground around the Fox.[94] There were no recorded blister agent casualties in Task Force Ripper during the war.[95] In 1993, a Marine thought his illness was caused by chemical warfare agents he was exposed to during the Gulf War. However, the Marine Corps investigation in 1994 that examined several incidents including Al Jaber concluded that the Marine’s reported illnesses did not exhibit "...any of the classical signs of exposure to chemical warfare agents at any time, on or since 24 February 1991." [96]

Al Jaber was the scene of intense activity during the ground war and in the month that followed. Yet none of the units at or around Al Jaber found any evidence of chemical weapons storage or use. Additionally, Marines in the area reported no chemical warfare casualties.



Over a three-day period, February 24-26, 1991, U.S. Marines were alerted seven times to don higher chemical protective clothing in response to possible chemical warfare agents. In each case, the Marines responded by following the appropriate procedures to evaluate and attempt to confirm the presence of these agents, but this investigation has uncovered no evidence to confirm the possibility. No one who conducted an M256 test reported a positive result. In the one alert reported by the Fox reconnaissance vehicle commander, the indications of an alert passed so rapidly that no spectrum was obtained, without which confirmation is not possible. Further, the Fox tape that might have provided additional information for analysis (even without the spectrum) was discarded after a senior NBC officer evaluated the tape and determined that the alert was caused by smoke from the oil well fires, not by a chemical warfare agent. Nevertheless, the Fox reconnaissance vehicle commander who saw the tape is certain that the Fox alerted to a Mustard agent.

Our efforts to find evidence of Iraqi chemical weapons in and around Al Jaber air base verified only that the Iraqis did possess chemical weapons and specifically Mustard munitions, but there is no sign that any were moved into Kuwait. After the war demolition of munitions found in Kuwait failed to turn up any chemical weapons. There are no reported chemical warfare casualties due to any of the alerts, including the Fox crew members who were outside the vehicle when the Fox’s spectrometer alarmed. Finally, Mustard is a persistent agent, so some detectable traces of Mustard should have remained for days to weeks following an attack. None was reported. Based upon the information that is available and despite the seven alerts around Al Jaber air base, the presence of chemical warfare agents is "Unlikely".

This assessment is tentative, based on the information available to us to date. This case will be reassessed over time in accordance with any new information and feedback from the publication of this narrative.

This case is still being investigated. As additional information becomes available, it will be incorporated. If you have records, photographs, recollections, or find errors in the details reported, please contact the DOD Persian Gulf Task Force Hot Line at 800-472-6719.

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