Bio/Chem Attack Protection Questioned

<b>Mike Wallace</b> On Concerns About US Troops' Training And Equipment

Twelve years after chemical and biological weapons were discovered in Iraq's arsenal during the Gulf War, U.S. forces massing for a possible attack on Iraq are still not properly prepared to encounter such weapons.

Politicians, current and former military members and even Congress's own General Accounting Office tell Mike Wallace that American soldiers do not have enough training or equipment needed to survive a chemical or biological attack. Wallace's report will be broadcast on 60 Minutes, Sunday, Feb. 16, at 7 p.m., ET/PT.

Troops in the field are so frustrated by the lack of preparedness that they have twisted the acronym NBC, for nuclear, biological chemical warfare. "Truth to tell, the troopers call it, 'Nobody Cares:' NBC," says retired Col. David Hackworth, an advocate of soldier's rights. "What they've been saying to me is that they don't trust their gear. They don't think it will work in a desert environment where it's burning hot. A soldier without confidence is in trouble," Hackworth says.

Until recently, NBC training was not even a factor measured in assessing the readiness of military units. Retired Capt. Eric Taylor, who studied the matter for a Cato Institute report, says commanders never thought they would face NBC. "An annoyance, as a waste of time, as a joke," is how Taylor says commanders viewed NBC. "I understand we are now dispatching specialized teams to do crash training, almost on-the-job training. You don't do on-the-job training with these things. These things will kill you," Taylor says.

Some of the protection available could get a soldier killed. If initial waves of troops run out of new gear, they would have to resort to older protective suits, up to 250,000 of which have potentially fatal defects and are still unaccounted for. There have also been errors made, such as gas masks issued with training filters instead of the real thing and shortages of protective suits.

The Pentagon's head of chemical and biological preparedness acknowledges there have been problems, but says they're being addressed, especially warning troops about the 250,000 defective suits and trying to locate them. Otherwise, training is being done and soldiers are ready, says Dr. Anna Johnson-Winegar. "We have world-class equipment. We've made this a priority. Our young men and women…are trained. They know what to do," she tells Wallace.

The GAO would not allow its NBC investigator, Raymond Decker, to be interviewed for this report, but he told Congress that despite a recent push to prioritize NBC training, it's still not enough in the face of such awesome weapons.

Says Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.), chairman of the House National Security Subcommittee, "We've had 12 years now to deal with it. We haven't. We're still hearing from people out in the field that they're not getting this equipment yet and they're not training in it," he says.

  • David Kohn

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