US troops headed into Iraq more than a decade ago to hunt down weapons of mass destruction, but they found something else instead: massive numbers of chemical weapons, which injured soldiers and prompted a possible Pentagon cover-up, the New York Times reports. In a stunning narrative based on interviews and documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, the Times reveals that between 2004 and 2011, American soldiers and American-trained Iraqis found about 5,000 chemical weapons from Saddam Hussein's days; 24 of the troops were exposed to mustard gas or nerve agents, with at least six injuries (and that's just based on the Times' reporting, not on still-classified government info). Soldiers say they were told to toe the government line in reporting their findings—or rather, not reporting them—a directive they say kept them from receiving proper treatment and public acknowledgment of their wounds. Perhaps most nerve-wracking: ISIS is now in charge of most of the area where the chemical weapons were reportedly found.
Although the US government has said that Hussein's chemical leftovers aren't a threat, the interviewed soldiers would likely argue otherwise. Describing horrific symptoms—severe headaches, leaking blisters, difficulty breathing, balance issues—some of which persist to this day, affected troops say their claims of being affected by chemical weapons were often dismissed by clinic workers who accused them of everything from being on drugs to trying to get out of active duty. When they were treated, the medics often didn't know what they were doing, some soldiers say, and the government hasn't bothered following up to see how they're doing now. And in five of the six injuries, the munitions involved appeared to have been designed in the US. A rep for Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel didn't respond to specific Times assertions, but he said the department would look into them. Read the entire New York Times account. (Read more Iraq stories.)