America's Struggle with Chemical-Biological Warfare

By Albert J. Mauroni | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 1
Swords or Shields:
The Debate over WMDs

It is August 8, 1990, and the 82d Airborne Division is deploying to Saudi Arabia to draw "a line in the sand" against Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. Among the Central Command (CENTCOM) commander-in-chief's (CINC) concerns is that his soldiers have a limited capability to stand up to and defeat Iraqi armored brigades and even less capability to survive a chemical or biological weapons attack. The first brigade into theater has no chemical specialists to advise them on what to do, since Congress had disbanded the Army's Chemical Corps in 1972. There had been no improvements in the Vietnam-era M17 protective mask, and those masks that had not dry-rotted away had no filters in supply to make them functional. The soldiers had no chemical protective suits, since the last stores had expired years ago. The incoming British forces had protective suits, but none to spare to the much larger American force. Spare parts for the M8 chemical detectors had never been plentiful, and there were no industrial firms to produce replacements, since they had shifted to more profitable lines of work years ago. The CENTCOM CINC saw only one option; he would threaten massive retaliation against any Iraqi aggression that included the use of chemical-biological agents. Retaliating with U.S. chemical weapons was not an option. The only chemical munitions available were over twenty years old and were not compatible with modern artillery and aircraft delivery systems. He decided to request release authority for Air Force tactical nuclear weapons and waited for diplomats to deliver the warning message to Saddam Hussein.

As the lead brigade of the 82d Airborne Division landed at King Fahd International Airfield, they had only a few hours to reflect on how damn hot it was before air-raid sirens erupted with warning klaxons. Running toward the shelters, they had barely made it to safety as the incoming Iraqi jets released their munitions. The shock of explosions around them soon died off. It wasn't until soldiers noted their comrades stiffening in shock and grasping at their throats that they realized

-3-

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