10 NOVEMBER 1990, Page 11


Charles Glass on

the appalling results if Saddam Hussein uses gas

Napoleon never ceased complaining to Kutu- zov and to the Emperor Alexander that the war was being conducted contrary to all the rules — as if there were any rules for killing people.

Tolstoy on the French retreat from Moscow in War and Peace COLUMNISTS tell us that the United States and Iraq have become bogged down in a phoney war, just like the one that followed Hitler's invasion of Poland. If the real war begins, to what will we compare its engagements? Dresden? D-Day? The Battle of the Bulge? Hiroshima? Will it, like the war with which it has most often been compared, last six years and claim millions of lives? Perhaps the first world war might provide a more useful analogy, however hyperbolic. When General Erich Ludendorf began his offensive on the Somme, he led with gas attacks that killed, maimed and demoralised the British troops, who fell back ten miles. When the allies, with the support of a million Amer- ican troops, launched their counter- offensive, they too used the chemical weapons that they later outlawed at Gene- va.

If the United States attacks the Iraqi forces occupying Kuwait, it is inconceiv- able that Iraq will not use the chemical weapons that it used successfully, in defen- sive and offensive operations, against Iran. It is possible that Iraq, hoping to expand the war, would use them on Israel as well as the Americans. If this happens, many, many people are going to die, and die in unbearable agony.

The United States depends on protective clothing, masks and respirators to protect its soldiers from Iraq's chemicals. The protection is wholly inadequate to the task. The Government Accounting Office's July 1986 report, Chemical Warfare: Progress and Problems in Defense Capability, tells us, 'In 1980 . . .' followed by three blank `Ok, kids, bedtime.' lines that remain classified, then adds, 'The "battledress overgarment" [a charcoal- lined protective suit] does not lower heat stress, which is viewed as a significant problem even in moderate climates, and it has no means for eliminating body waste. Both suits [battle dress and chemical pro- tective overgarments] are considered in- adequate for aviators, because . . .' and the next few lines are classified.

The GAO report, written at a time when the United States did not see Iraq as a potential enemy and was on the verge of sending its fleet to protect Saddam Hussein from Iran, did not mention that the suit can be penetrated by 'dirty mustard' — a chemical like the mustard gas used in the first world war, but which is attached to silicates whose molecular structure can be sufficiently small to pass between the fibres of the US suits. Anyone who has lived in an area where smoky coal penetrates nor- mal clothing knows what this is like, but coal ash can be washed off. Dirty mustard blisters the skin and can bore through to the bone.

The US army gas mask, the M-17, with charcoal filters, will probably not save many lives in Saudi Arabia. Much of the GAO criticism remains classified, but the published portions of the report mention, `It has no provision for radio and telephone communication.' It criticises the navy's Mark V mask for 'little protection, poor fit, high resistance to breathing, distorted communication, severe fogging, and in- compatibility with eyeglasses'. The M-17 uses the same filtering materials as the Mark V, and it has an added disadvantage: if the M-17 filters become clogged with chemicals, vapours or water, they cannot be replaced without removing the mask which, in what the army calls a 'chemical environment', cannot be done without exposure to the deadly gases. When I asked a training officer two weeks ago at the army's Chemical Warfare School at Fort McClellan, Alabama, to replace the filters, he took five minutes. That was in a laboratory. On the battlefield, he would have died.

Gwynne Roberts, the British freelance journalist who took the soil samples from northern Iraq that proved Iraq had used mustard and cyanide gases on Kurdish civilians in 1988, also brought back an Iraqi army gas mask. Most armies use filtering agents in their masks to protect their soldiers from their own chemicals, as when the Iraqis dropped chemicals on the Ira- nians in the Faw peninsula and sent ground troops into contaminated areas. Roberts gave the mask to the British chemical defence laboratories at Porton Down, who recently told him the Iraqis' filters would protect their soldiers from hydrogen cyanide — a chemical not usually favoured as a weapon because of its quick dispersal in the environment. Yet, if hydrogen cyanide could be frozen and dropped in concentrated form on the battlefield, it would clog the M-17 respirators and cause heavy casualties. When Roberts inter- viewed Professor Karl Heinz Lohs of Leip- zig's Institute for Research into Chemical Toxicology, he said the Soviets had per- fected a method of deep-freezing hydrogen cyanide to make it a useful, concentrated chemical weapon. He believed the Soviets had probably taught the process to Iraq. Lohs told Roberts, 'If hydrogen cyanide is deep-frozen and then deployed, you can achieve such high concentrations on the ground for very short periods of time that the gas will go right through normal masks.' Before German reunification, Lohs worked for East Germany's chemical warfare programme and visited Iraq. The US army has done studies of troop survivability and performance under simu- lated chemical attack, the 'Combined Arms in a Nuclear/Chemical Environment' test programme (CANE). Although the manoeuvres were conducted at platoon strength, rather than larger force levels as in Saudi Arabia, they revealed serious flaws in American equipment and training. Platoons spent 72 hours in a conventional mock battle and another 72 hours in a `simulated nuclear-chemical environment' (NCE). Most of the results are classified, but the published report gives considerable cause for concern.

Platoons took twice as long to complete an attack.

Firing rates declined 20 per cent in the defence and 40 per cent in the attack.

Twice 'as many soldiers were required for a successful attack.

Terrain was used less effectively for cover and concealment.

Soldiers had difficulty locating and iden- tifying targets.

Casualties per enemy attack increased 75 per cent.

Of shots fired (M16), 20 per cent were fired at friendly personnel.

In addition to this rather discouraging result, the study found an increase of 34 per cent in platoon leaders killed and that only 23 per cent of platoon leaders were replaced. Eighty-three per cent of the , soldiers were clinically dehydrated, and most did not recognise their leaders. Com- munications were impaired. Platoons cal- led for artillery support 209 times more than in a conventional battle. Platoon leaders experienced what the report calls `disorientation, confusion, frustration, irri- tability'. In a real battle, when men are dying and screaming in pain, the perform- ance is unlikely to be better.

The Iraqis can deliver their chemicals with artillery that at the moment leaves the allied forces, except the Saudis near the Kuwait border, safely beyond a 30- kilometre range. Iraq can extend the range of its chemical delivery if it can keep its warplanes in the air, something most milit- ary experts doubt. Iraq may have de- veloped chemical warheads for its Scud-B surface-to-surface missiles, some of which it has adapted to fire 1,000 kilometres. US officers in Saudi Arabia discount the Scud threat for two reasons: they insist the missile is inaccurate, and they believe the US Patriot anti-ballistic missile can shoot down the Scuds. However, even an inaccu- rate Scud could hit Saudi oil-fields, popula- tion centres and large troop concentra- tions; and the Patriot has never been tested against a Scud. Any effective use of chemicals by the Iraqis, combined with conventional bom- bardment, would put a severe strain on the medical facilities in Saudi Arabia. Many soldiers would have to be evacuated 300 miles to Riyadh, both to be safely out of the battle-zone and to receive treatment at the National Guard Hospital, the only Saudi medical facility certified as US- standard. Most would have to be brought to Europe or the United States, where

many would bear the effects of nerve gas for the rest of their lives.

If the worst comes to pass, and an American strike on Iraqi forces in Kuwait leads to thousands of American and allied casualties, the United States will not be able to risk defeat. What would the United States and its allies do then? Some analysts believe that Israel would enter the battle, possibly dropping nuclear or chemical weapons on Baghdad. Most likely, the United States would respond to chemicals with chemicals. Both Iraq and the United States are signatories to the 1925 Geneva Protocol prohibiting 'the use in war of asphyxiating, poisonous or other gases'. So much for the rules, 'as if there were any rules for killing people'. Can the United States or the United Nations put an end to the occupation without war? An American officer whose opinions I respect believes that the embar- go against Iraq can work to the extent that it will diminish Saddam Hussein's power to project military strength through lack of the industrial equipment that Iraq cannot manufacture: tyres, tank treads and so on. Given the choice between a weaker army and the loss of Kuwait, he may choose for the time being to lose Kuwait.

You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye Who cheer when soldier lads march by, Sneak home and pray you'll never know The hell where youth and laughter go.

Siegfried Sassoon wrote that about the war to end all wars, and one spiritual descen- dant of his may write a poem about this first crusade of the 'new world order'. That is, if the war leaves him his hands, his eyes, his mind and his conscience.

General Schwarzkopf told Youssef Ibra- him of the New York Times last week: 'If We have to fight, I am going to use everything that is available to me to inflict the maximum number of casualties on the enemy as possible.' General Schwarzkopf's army has the largest arsenal of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons on earth.