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U.S. takes targeting precautions to avoid chemical, biological release

U.S. forces have been taking precautions to avoid a devastating release of suspected Iraqi chemical and biological agents during U.S. air strikes over the past three weeks of conflict, according a senior military official.

Army Lt. Col. Thomas Woloszyn, who is in charge of chemical and biological defense for the U.S. Central Command at its Joint Operations Center in Qatar, said in an interview Friday that U.S. forces have sought to incorporate factors such as wind direction into bombing decisions to try to minimize the potential for casualties resulting from a chemical or biological release.

"A lot of emphasis is placed on minimizing collateral damage and if we can check the weather reports, and get the most accurate [reports] as possible prior to a strike, we'll do that," Woloszyn said.

"There have been times when we have not struck targets based upon that wind, and based upon those decisions, and that's all part of the targeting process," he said.

As for where suspected stocks might be located, "We don't know what's there or where it's at. So a lot of times we have to project the worst case," he said.

Another approach to minimizing casualties, he said, is to consider the use of so-called "agent-defeat" weapons, which can minimize the dispersal of targeted WMD agents by incinerating them. He would not say whether such weapons have been used in the last three weeks.

Woloszyn said U.S. forces would seek to destroy weaponized agents that could be used against U.S. forces, but might generally avoid striking a known production facility of chemical or biological weapons.

"What we want to do is limit the enemy use of those weapons on the battlefield. So if he's got a production plant, we may not need to destroy it. [As a] matter of fact, we probably don't want to destroy it, we can just limit his access" to those sites, he said, by perhaps destroying a bridge, cutting off power, or laying mines.

Woloszyn said so far, there has been no evidence that the thousands of bombing and cruise missiles strikes against Iraqi government and military infrastructure during the conflict have struck any chemical or biological agents. "There have been no releases that we can detect, or any casualties that we can see that were inflicted that could result from chem or bio," he said.