February 1, 2008 – More than two dozen U.S. soldiers and their interpreters were rushed to a hospital by helicopter this week from Diyala province’s “bread basket” after being exposed to chlorine gas while destroying an al Qaida explosives cache, The Washington Times reported Thursday.
Military sources told the Times that all but four of the 26 persons were quickly returned to duty. The four stayed at the U.S. military hospital at Balad, northeast of Baghdad, for additional observation.
“It was really … scary,” one soldier told the Times.
Lt. Col. Patrick Mackin, intelligence officer for the 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, confirmed the incident. He told the paper it occurred Tuesday, about one mile north of Himbus.
The gas was in a metal cylinder, one of 19 found that usually hold propane but which al-Qaida packs with explosives for improvised explosive devices, the Times reported.
Mackin told the Times that photographs taken of the cylinders and other materials found at a previously bombed al-Qaida in Iraq camp, located in a palm grove, indicated that the devices had been buried there for months.
“I’d bet a paycheck that [the chlorine] had been there since summer,” he said. “I don’t think it indicates a renewed trend by [al-Qaida in Iraq] to use the stuff.”
Last summer, al-Qaida had added chlorine to some of its vehicle-born IEDs, the Times reported.
“I think it wasn’t as effective as they wanted,” Mackin told the paper.