A key House national security panel has asked the Pentagon and Department of Veterans Affairs to turn over documents on the toxic conditions at an Uzbekistan base used by the U.S. military shortly after the 9/11 attacks, after a McClatchy investigation reported that service members who were deployed there are now facing cancer or other chronic illnesses.
In December, McClatchy exclusively reported on special operations forces who were sent to Karshi-Khanabad, Uzbekistan, known as “K2,” in the weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks who have now came forward with concerns about the many cancer diagnoses in their community.
The Pentagon knew the former Soviet base was contaminated by radiation from depleted uranium from weapons the Soviet and Uzbek militaries had housed there, as well as chemical weapons contamination and fuel and solvents that oozed “black goo” from the ground, according to classified and unclassified documents obtained by McClatchy.
In letters to Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie, the House panel requested all classified and unclassified documents on the contamination at K2, an accounting for all who had been treated there and other information by Jan. 24. The letters were signed by House Committee on Oversight and Reform Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., and Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Mass., chair of the national security subcommittee.
The subcommittee requested the documents to “evaluate the extent to which U.S. service members may have been exposed to contamination hazards at K-2, as well as whether additional action should be taken to assist and honor those who served there.”
“These claims are especially concerning given that the Department of Defense reportedly conducted its own contemporaneous analyses that U.S. personnel deployed to K2 would likely be exposed to various chemical hazards,” the letter said. The ranking Republicans were copied on the letter, but did not sign it.
U.S. service members were deployed to K2 from 2001 to 2005 as the base became a hub for operations against the Taliban and al Qaeda in northern Afghanistan.
In the years since, at least 61 service members who were deployed there have been diagnosed with cancer, a 2015 Army study found. Veterans who run a private Facebook support group say the number is actually much higher.
The group had not previously gone public with concerns about their illnesses, but reached out to McClatchy in late 2019 after McClatchy published a series on the rising number of cancers that veterans are now facing after almost two decades of war. The K2 veterans say they have had difficulty getting the VA to recognize their illnesses as connected to their deployment at the base.
The Pentagon and VA did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the letter.