CIA, Pentagon dodge blame for Iraqi chemical weaponsApril 16, 1997
Web posted at: 11:43 p.m. EDT (0343 GMT) From Correspondent Jamie McIntyre
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- CIA officials were on the defensive again Wednesday, testifying on Capitol Hill that the agency was not to blame for the failure to warn U.S. troops of possible chemical-contamination dangers at an Iraqi weapons dump.
Robert Walpole, a top CIA official handling Gulf War issues, admitted the agency should have done a better job of warning the military about the possibility that deadly chemical weapons were being stored in bunkers at Kamisiyah, where U.S. troops blew up tons of munitions in March 1991.
But, in his testimony, he disputed allegations that the agency failed to warn U.S. commanders at all.
He insisted the CIA and Defense Intelligence Agency did provide the military with "multiple warnings" about chemical weapons dangers at the storage site.
(149K/12 sec. AIFF or WAV sound) - Walpole and Flowers testify
Army 'not aware'
But that's not the Army's version of events. The commmander in charge of the 20th Engineering Brigade at Kamisiyah testified that no one told him it was a suspected chemical weapons site, or he might have done things differently.
"We were not aware," Maj. Gen. Robert Flowers said.
Flowers witnessed the demolitions from a helicopter that landed as the explosions began. Members of the 37th Engineering Battalion conducted the operation. Some of the soldiers in that unit have said they are convinced there were no chemical weapons at Kamisiyah.
Other Gulf War veterans, however, point to Kamisiyah as one possible source of mysterious illnesses such as sleeplessness, body aches and stomach ailments they are suffering, known as Gulf War Syndome. Flowers said he suffers from sleeplessness, himself, but doesn't know the cause.
The Pentagon says troops were warned that every Iraqi ammunition dump could contain chemical arms. "The military did not sit on this information," said Bernard Rostker, the Pentagon official in charge of Gulf War issues.
Chemical weapons undetected
And Pentagon officials said special teams searched for chemical weapons and didn't find them.
"During that demolition operation, there were no reports of chemical munitions, nor were there reports of anyone experiencing symptoms consistent with exposure to chemical agents," Rostker said.
Six years later, the Pentagon is convinced that shells at Kamisiyah may have contained deadly sarin gas.
The debate over who knew what when does little to resolve key unanswered questions: Were U.S. troops exposed to chemicals? How many and how much? And what is the explanation for the illnesses of veterans who were not near Kamisiyah?
The Pentagon has contacted 6,000 soldiers who were at or near Kamisiyah in March 1991, just after the Gulf War, when the demolitions took place. Of those, 300 have indicated some health concerns. None to date have been directly linked to exposure to sarin gas.
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