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U.S. Marine Corps Minefield Breaching

Many veterans of the Gulf War have been experiencing a variety of physical symptoms, collectively called Gulf War illnesses. In response to veterans’ concerns, the Department of Defense established a task force in June 1995 to investigate all possible causes. On Nov. 12, 1996, responsibility for these investigations was assumed by the Investigation and Analysis Directorate, Office of the Special Assistant for Gulf War Illnesses which has continued to investigate the events related to the U.S. Marine Corps Minefield Breaching operations. Its interim report is contained here.

As part of the effort to inform the public about the progress of this effort, DOD is publishing on the Internet and elsewhere accounts related to possible causes of Gulf War illnesses, along with whatever documentary evidence or personal testimony was used in compiling the account. The narrative that follows is such an account.

 

I. Methodology

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II. Summary

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III. Narrative

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IV. Operations of the 1st Marine Division

Combat Engineers of the 1st Marine Division, working in cool, drizzly, and heavily overcast conditions due to weather and oil smoke, opened four assault lanes in the first minefield by 0715 hours and four more in the second minefield by 1230 hours.[16] By 1420 hours, all 1st Division lanes in both minefields had been opened. Forces of the 1st Marine Division passed quickly through the breaches (Figure 3), encountering no resistance in the first minefield and overcoming light resistance through the second minefield. They proceeded to Al Jaber air base by evening. According to 7th Marine records,[17] Task Force Ripper (the Division’s lead maneuver element) logged no potential or actual exposure to chemical warfare agents throughout all breaching operations.

Figure 3. 1st Marine Division Minefield Breaching

Figure 3. 1st Marine Division Minefield Breaching

Initial Report

 

Corroborating Information

 

Assessment

 

V. Operations of the 2nd Marine Division

The 2d Marine Division attacked approximately 25 kilometers to the northwest of the 1st Marine Division (Figure 4). Under the original concept of operations, the 2d Marine Division intended to follow the 1st Marine Division through their breaching lanes. However, early analysis and walk-throughs convinced everyone that this plan would not allow the speed required for the operation nor would it minimize the exposure to enemy fire. Consequently, the 2d Marine Division’s orders were changed to allow it to attack at this separate location to breach the minefield more rapidly and to generate the maximum offensive operational momentum. In this way, the 2d Marine Division could apply concentrated forces at the decisive point of attack, and "to continue rapidly forward to seize division and MEF [Marine Expeditionary Force] objectives."[32]

NBC guidance for the 2d Marine Division was given to the commanders in various operation plans and written orders: it warned of the possibility of a chemical attack. For example, the 2d Marine Division Operation Plan for the breaching operations directed all subordinate units to "[a]ssume all Iraqi mines, missiles, artillery and aircraft attacks to be chemical until proven otherwise."[33] The Fox crews were well aware of their need to detect possible chemical agents from such an attack and warn the forces, but they were still under direction to maintain the tactical momentum through the minefields. As a result, "it was obvious ... from the very beginning ... that it would not be possible for any Fox under fire to stop and complete the entire testing/sampling process necessary to confirm any agent findings."[34]

Figure 4. 2d Marine Division Minefield Breaching

Figure 4. 2d Marine Division Minefield Breaching

The Commanding General’s guidance to the 2d Marine Division, as reiterated in the 6th Marines Fragmentary Order, was:

The enemy has and will use chemical weapons. Unit commanders should expect to encounter the use of chemical weapons, but should not become consumed with chemical survival and ignore other important tasks, missions, etc. Expect a fair share of chemical casualties along with other conventional casualties. Remember, mission accomplishment is paramount, and risks must be taken if MOPP posture will prevent mission accomplishment. Let us not win the chemical survival battle and lose the tactical battle.[35]

The Marines of the 2d Division were briefed to expect chemical mines interspersed with regular mines. Company "B", 1st Armored Assault Battalion was attached to the 2d Assault Amphibian Battalion. The Commanding Officer of Company "B" recalled, "We were prepared to go to MOPP4"[36] (full mission protective posture that included wearing the protective mask, gloves, boots, and over-garment). As a result, the Marines in the 2d Marine Division, like their counterparts in the 1st, were primed to expect chemical attacks and well-trained to respond and fight through that eventuality.

Lane Red 1 Chemical Alert

 

Corroborating Information

 

Possible Chemical Land Mine

 

Fox Alert Analysis

 

Possible Chemical Injury

 

Assessment

 

Tab A - Acronyms, Abbreviations, & Glossary

Acronyms and Abbreviations: 

 

Glossary

 

Tab B - Units Involved

1st Marine Division and 2d Marine Division

 

Tab C - Bibliography

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Tab D - Methodology for Chemical Incident Investigation

DOD common framework: 

 

End Notes

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Last Updated: October 13, 2023
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