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U.S. Marine Corps Minefield Breaching: May 25, 2000

Many veterans of the Gulf War have expressed concern that their unexplained illnesses may result from their experiences in that war. In response to veterans’ concerns, the Department of Defense established a task force in June 1995 to investigate incidents and circumstances relating to possible causes. The Office of the Special Assistant to the Deputy Secretary of Defense for Gulf War Illnesses assumed responsibility for these investigations on Nov. 12, 1996, and has continued to investigate reports of chemical warfare agent incidents.

To inform the public about the progress of these efforts, the DOD is publishing on the Internet and elsewhere accounts that may contribute to the discussion of possible causes of illnesses among Gulf War veterans, along with documentary evidence or personal testimony used in compiling the accounts. This narrative is such an account.


I. Methodology

Read the Methodology: 


II. Summary

Read the Summary: 


III. Narrative

A. Background


B. Situation


C. The Iraqi Chemical Weapons Threat at the Time of the Gulf War


D. Fox Capabilities


E. Breaching Details


F. Operations of the 1st Marine Division


G. Operations of the 2d Marine Division

The 2d Marine Division (2d MARDIV) consisted of units from the 6th Marine, 8th Marine, and 10th Marine Regiments; the US Army’s 1st Brigade of the 2nd Armored Division (the Tiger Brigade), and other supporting Marine units.[69] The 2d MARDIV attacked approximately 25 kilometers to the northwest (Figure 8) of the 1st Marine Division. NBC guidance for the 2d MARDIV, given to the commanders in various operation plans and written orders, warned of the possibility of a chemical warfare agent attack. For example, a 2d MARDIV operations order for the breaching operations directed all subordinate units to "[a]ssume all Iraqi mines, missiles, artillery and aircraft attacks to be chemical [warfare agent] until proven otherwise."[70] The Fox crews were well aware of their need to detect possible chemical warfare agents from such an attack and warn the forces, but they were still under direction to maintain the tactical momentum through the minefields. Therefore, "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 and sampling process necessary to confirm any agent findings."[71]

Figure 8. 2d Marine Division minefield breaching area

Figure 8. 2d Marine Division minefield breaching area

The commanding general’s guidance to the 2d MARDIV, as reiterated in the 6th Marine Regiment 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."[72]

The Marines of the 2d MARDIV were briefed to expect chemical mines interspersed with conventional mines. As the company commander of a 2d MARDIV armored assault battalion recalled, "We were prepared to go into MOPP 4"[73] (full mission oriented protective posture that included wearing the protective mask, gloves, boots, and overgarment). Like their counterparts in the 1st MARDIV, the Marines in the 2d MARDIV were primed to expect chemical warfare agent attack and were well trained to respond and fight through that eventuality.



IV. Lessons Learned

A. Fox MM-1 Tapes


B. Documenting the Presence of Chemical Warfare Agents


C. Treatment of Possible Chemical Warfare Injuries


D. Communications Feedback


Tab A - Acronyms, Abbreviations & Glossary

Acronyms and Abbreviations:




Tab B - Units Involved

1st Marine Division


2d Marine Division


Tab C - Bibliography 

View Resources: 


Tab D - Methodology for Chemical Incident Investigation

Expand for Methodology


Tab E - Other Chemical Warfare Issues

Expand for Other Chemical Warfare Issues