Pentagon: Iraqi depot stored chemical weapons
December 5, 1996
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A Pentagon official said Thursday "there's no doubt" that sarin nerve gas and mustard gas were present at an ammunition dump destroyed by U.S. troops shortly after the Gulf War.
U.N. inspectors who discovered the deadly gasses wore protective suits and weren't injured. But American troops who were nearby when the bunkers were blown up may have been exposed to the toxins, said Bernard Rostker, a Pentagon official charged with investigating Gulf War illnesses.
The chemicals were found at the sprawling Kamisiyah ammunition depot in southern Iraq.
Until now, Defense Department officials had only acknowledged the possibility that chemicals were in the ammunition bunker at Kamisiyah. Until last June, they insisted that Gulf War veterans probably weren't exposed to harmful materials.
"Based upon the U.N. reports and the evidence that the U.N. has brought back, there's no doubt in my mind there were chemical -- in fact, the U.N. found both mustard gas and sarin in Kamisiyah," Rostker said.
"They drilled into a rocket and sarin spurted out of that -- of that rocket," Rostker said. "So sarin was present and they did find a cache of mustard gas."
"Put pieces of the information together," Rostker said. "The bunker had destroyed chemical munitions. We destroyed the bunker. Well, I guess I have to conclude that there were chemical weapons destroyed."
He said it was "a puzzlement" that no chemical alarms sounded, no small animals died and no people got sick soon after the bunker was blown up.
Computer analysis of where the wind may have blown any released chemicals is due to be reported to the Pentagon in mid-December, Rostker said.
The Pentagon has been looking at health records from war veterans to determine if the battalion that was involved in the mission developed particular health problems.
Almost 9,000 Gulf War vets have filed disability claims with the Veterans Affairs Department for illnesses they believe related to the conflict, but VA and Pentagon officials have said they have yet to find any single cause of their illnesses.
About 80,000 veterans have signed up with the VA and the Department of Defense for examinations. The symptoms include neurological, respiratory and skin problems known collectively as "Gulf War syndrome."
The U.N. report confirming the presence of sarin was given to U.S. officials five years ago but was misplaced until recently found by a CIA analyst several months ago, according to the Pentagon.
Correspondent Jamie McIntyre contributed to this report.
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