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US

Cohen: No nerve gas used in Operation Tailwind

Cohen
Cohen  

'They have been hurt by this report'

July 21, 1998
Web posted at: 12:44 p.m. EDT (1244 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A Pentagon review has found no evidence to support allegations by CNN and Time magazine that a 1970 military operation in Laos was designed to hunt down American defectors and kill them using sarin nerve gas, Defense Secretary William Cohen said Tuesday.

Cohen presented the findings of the Pentagon report at a news conference that came in response to a now-retracted CNN broadcast, which claimed that U.S. troops used sarin during 1970's Operation Tailwind in Laos.

Cohen ordered an immediate investigation after the story was broadcast on June 7, when CNN, and later Time magazine, claimed that the mission was designed to track down and kill American defectors.

 ALSO:
Full report of Department of Defense review of allegations concerning "Operation Tailwind"

"We studied scores of documents about Operation Tailwind and conducted interviews with soldiers and officials at all levels of command," Cohen said. "We found no evidence to support the CNN/Time assertions on defectors or the use of sarin nerve gas."

The Pentagon study said the operation was launched as a reconnaissance mission "to engage the enemy and to divert enemy attention" from Operation Gauntlet, an offensive mission designed to gain control of terrain in Laos.

"No records or personal recollections were discovered to suggest that targeting U.S. defectors played any part in the operation," the report said.

Key findings of Pentagon report in short:
  • No evidence was found that sarin was ever transported to Southeast Asia or was used in Operation Tailwind.

  • Operation Tailwind was launched to divert enemy attention from Operation Gauntlet, an offensive operation to regain control of terrain in Laos.

  • Tear gas designated CS, a more potent version than tear gas previously used in the war, was used in Operation Tailwind. Its use as a tool to suppress enemy fire was viewed as successful.

  • Only two U.S. military personnel were known to be defectors during the Vietnam War. No records suggest that defectors were thought to be in the area of Operation Tailwind.

  • No records or personal recollections were found to suggest that U.S. defectors were targeted in Operation Tailwind. There is also no evidence that there were noncombatant casualties (women or children).


  •  

    injured
    The men who participated in Operation Tailwind  

    Heroes 'hurt'

    "All Americans should know the 16 men who conducted this mission were heroes, but they have been hurt by this (CNN/TIME) report," Cohen said.

    CNN retracted its story at the beginning of July. CNN News Group Chairman, President and CEO Tom Johnson said that an independent investigation had concluded that the report "cannot support" the claims made in the "NewsStand: CNN and Time" program.

    The CNN report prompted an outcry among military veterans and raised probing questions from other journalists.

    Two key CNN producers in the report, April Oliver and Jack Smith, were fired while senior producer Pam Hill resigned. Prominent correspondent Peter Arnett was reprimanded.

    Smith and Oliver, however, stand by their story and have accused CNN management of caving in to pressure by the military.

    The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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