Albion Monitor /News

20,000 Now Considered Gulf War Syndrome Risk

by Judith Perera

(IPS) Official denial and obfuscation have been replaced by grudging acknowledgement of the possibility that thousands of U.S. soldiers were exposed to Iraqi chemical weapons during the Gulf war.

The U.S. Defense Department, which at one time said only 150 persons were exposed, now says as many as 20,000 veterans of the conflict may be at risk.

100,000 U.S. troops were in the area near the facility

The variation in the numbers reflects the fact that the U.S military does not know how many troops may have been exposed when troops destroyed a bunker near Kamisiyah which was later found to contain chemical weapons.

Earlier the Pentagon had said it would try to contact 5,000 troops who were in the area at the time. But there is confusion over the number of explosions which took place and the size of the area around the site which may have been contaminated. The Pentagon has now sent letters of inquiry to 20,800 troops.

Signed by Deputy Defense Secretary John White, the letter says: "Since there is evidence that chemical weapons were present during the demolition of a bunker and crated munitions in a pit area, we are asking for help from our people in learning more about what happened."

In addition to the destruction of two weapons sites on March 4-10, officials have also decided to investigate an explosion on March 12. They have admitted that hundreds more nerve gas rockets may have been exploded than first thought if this explosion occurred.

It is believed that the first two detonations released up to two tons of sarin nerve gas. In June, when it was first announced that troops may have been affected, the Pentagon said only 150 Army engineers may have been exposed.

This was later increased to between 300 and 400, then to 5,000 and then to 15,000.

A computer model of weather patterns and other data collected by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is being developed to help determine the potential exposure area and how many U.S and allied troops could be at risk. An independent panel of scientists has been assembled to review the CIA simulation of how clouds of toxic gas may have drifted.

This data will be combined with maps showing the disposition of American troops at the time. Pentagon spokesman Ken Bacon says that the radius being investigated by the department has now increased from 25 kilometers to 50 kilometers. There were 100,000 U.S. troops in the area near the facility when it was destroyed.

On several occasions when Czech troops were told to put on their gas masks the Americans did nothing to protect themselves

The Pentagon has repeatedly denied that it ignored medical complaints from Gulf War veterans or that it has attempted to cover up possible exposure of U.S. troops to chemical agents in the war. It insists that there is no evidence Iraq ever used chemical weapons against the coalition forces.

However, reports from the Czech Republic suggest that chemical agents were detected in the early days of the Gulf War. According to chief warrant officer Vaclav Hlavac who monitored chemical emissions for the Czech Army during the war, the Americans were given repeated warnings that chemicals had been detected but ignored them.

On several occasions when Czech troops were told to put on their gas masks the Americans did nothing to protect themselves. Hlavac says nerve agents and mustard were first detected on Jan. 19, 1991.

Assistant Secretary of Defense in charge of the Pentagon division on chemical weapons, Theodore Prociv, still insists that the Pentagon considered the Czech findings to be false alarms.

"What we agree to is what we can verify," Prociv says. "Every now and then we would get an alarm and we couldn't verify it. So our position is that without the verification, it's not a true detection."

The Pentagon says the low levels of emissions reported were not considered a threat to U.S. forces. Although the United States admits that the Czech army and their chemical equipment are known for their reliability, combat logs compiled by officers working for Allied Commander Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf show that American commanders ignored all the Czech warnings.

The Pentagon is still officially refusing to acknowledge that ill-health related to service in the Gulf could be due to chemical exposure. However, the number on the Veterans Affairs' Gulf War Registry, set up to monitor soldiers' health status, is now well over 20,000.

The first reports of unexplained illness -- called Gulf War Syndrome -- appeared late in 1991. It included chronic fatigue, diarrhea, aching joints, memory loss, and rashes as well as severe headaches, patchy hair loss, or unheralded bleeding from the gums or sinuses. Some reported irritability, muscle spasms, high temperatures, or night sweats.

Recently a panel of private medical experts convened by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences issued a "final report" on Gulf War Syndrome. It concluded there was no firm evidence of a link between possible chemical exposure in the Gulf and resulting illness to military personnel.

Nevertheless hundreds of American troops are receiving compensation for unknown ailments acquired during the war. Illness among British and Czech troops have been similarly dismissed by the authorities.

More than 100 of the 200 Czechs who served in the Gulf have medical problems which they attribute to service in the Gulf and Hlavac says everyone suffered flu-like symptoms.

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Albion Monitor October 26, 1996 (

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