Soldiers win post-Gulf War battle

 

PRESIDENT Clinton yesterday launched a fresh effort to root out causes of the "Gulf War Syndrome" afflicting thousands of serviceman, after a high-profile campaign by veterans' groups against CIA cover-ups and Pentagon foot-dragging.

Welcoming the conclusion of an 18-month commission recognising the range of symptoms suffered by soldiers who served in conflict with Iraq six years ago - including nausea, skin conditions and fatigue - Mr Clinton ordered the secretaries of Defence, Health and Veterans affairs to come up with concrete proposals for action within 60 days.

The commission accused the Defence department of being superficial, lacking in credibility and intransigent in its efforts to investigate the syndrome, and Mr Clinton promised a tougher probe over coming months.

"I pledge to our veterans and to every American, we will not stop until we have done all we can to care for our Gulf War veterans, to find out why they are sick and help make them healthy again," Mr Clinton told a White House press conference.

Mr Clinton immediately asked the Presidential Advisory Committee on Gulf War Illnesses of independent experts to continue for a further nine months, rather than disbanding.

Mr Clinton said he would support a proposal to scrap the "two-year rule"which forces ex-service man claiming disability benefits to prove that their symptoms emerged within two years of active service.

After a series of embarrassing events, including the loss by the Pentagon of crucial war documents and the resignation of two CIA intelligence officers over its failure to reveal data showing possible exposure of US troops to chemical weapons, Mr Clinton said the issue would be a "top priority" for incoming defence secretary, Mr William Cohen.

Mr Clinton admitted that new information on the impact of the destruction of an arms depot at Kamisiyah in southern Iraq, just after the defeat of Saddam Hussein, increased the chances that soldiers were in contact with poison gas.

Politicians from both parties welcomed Mr Clinton's initiative, but were still worried about the continued reluctance of the military to own up to the problem. Democrat Senator, Mr John Rockefeller, attacked the "massive indifference of the whole military establishment - the CIA, the Defence Department, all the rest of it - to this problem and the soldiers who sacrificed so much".

A number of senior military officers have blamed the symptoms on "stress".