Report: U.S. ignored Gulf War chemical warnings from CzechsOctober 19, 1996
Web posted at: 7:45 p.m. EDT
(CNN) -- U.S. military commanders during the Gulf War ignored repeated warnings from Czech soldiers that they had identified Iraqi chemical weapons on the battlefield, The New York Times reported Saturday.
The report cites interviews with Czech soldiers and combat logs compiled by officers working for U.S. Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf. It could prove damaging to the Pentagon as investigations continue into Gulf War syndrome, complaints about illness that some have linked to chemical emissions during the 1991 battles.
The Pentagon had no comment Saturday on the reports from Prague that Czech soldiers repeatedly warned Americans of the presence of nerve gas during the 1991 Persian Gulf War.
Earlier this month, the Pentagon said more than 15,000 U.S. soldiers may have been exposed to nerve gas. However, the Defense Department has said there is little scientific evidence suggesting that soldiers exposed to small amounts of chemical weapons would suffer long-term health problems.
The Czech soldiers, known for their skill at detecting hazardous-chemical emissions, were convinced that nerve gas detected in the early days of the Gulf War had been released from Iraqi chemical plants bombed by the United States, the Times said.
At one point, Czech soldiers hurriedly pulled on their gas masks and protective suits after detecting chemical agents in the northern Saudi desert, while Americans stationed a few hundred feet away remained unprotected.
About 11 percent to 15 percent of the 269 Czech troops who served in the war complained of health problems stemming from chemical exposure. Their ailments are similar to illnesses reported by American troops: chronic fatigue, joint aches, headaches and digestive problems.
During the war, the U.S. military command largely dismissed the importance of warnings from the Czech chemical specialists. A January 19, 1991, log entry reports that the United States was informed that the Czechs had detected nonlethal levels of mustard gas.
"Explained that was impossible," the log officer reported. "This sort of thing is bound to happen."
On January 22, after the Czechs made another detection, the U.S. stated: "Told them to disregard any reports coming from Czechs."
Antonin Baudys, the former Czech defense minister, said he was convinced the Czech detections were accurate and that they were forwarded to the U.S. command. "We provided them with all the information we had," he told the Times.
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