On Sunday, Mike Wallace informed the nation on “60 Minutes” that our troops in the Gulf region don’t have sufficient training or the right protection and detection gear to survive an Iraqi chemical or biological attack. Not exactly breaking news to the readers of this column or Defense Watch, the tenacious Pentagon watchdog that’s been warning us for months not to allow a replay of the 1991 Gulf War mistakes – which, according to a November 2002 Veterans Affairs report, has so far killed or disabled almost 180,000 Desert Storm vets.

The “60 Minutes” story was backed up by a congressional General Accounting Office report blistering the top brass for rushing our troops into harm’s way without doing their sworn duty: making sure they were good to go. It seems their precious deployment timetable is more important than their grunts, who might soon be dispatched into a potentially poisonous caldron – to destroy Iraq’s chemical and biological weapons – without the right gear.

Although the Pentagon brass were too into escape-and-evade tactics to find the time to do an on-camera interview with Mike Wallace, a senior congressional aide, speaking off the record, said: “While of course I’m not able to disclose anything ‘classified,’ you should know your story’s absolutely on-target. The classified facts regarding our preparedness for chemical or biological warfare are a lot worse than ’60 Minutes’ reported.”

Wait a minute! If a Senate aide on the outside of the inside loop knows the score, surely the military brass, the aide’s senator boss and at least a platoon of his peers also know that – unlike Desert Storm, where the vast number of deaths or disabilities were accidentally self-inflicted by U.S. bomber- and/or engineer-zapped Iraqi chemical munitions blowing downwind and striking our troops – our sons and daughters now sharpening their bayonets are in even more jeopardy this time around from Iraqi horror weapons that will be intentionally zeroed in on them.

Yet – to their everlasting shame – not one of these guardians of our republic has stood tall and publicly sounded off about this life-or-death issue. What’s happened to the spirit of John F. Kennedy’s “Profiles in Courage”? Have those we trust to protect and run our country all suddenly been struck dumb, or – worse – have they chosen the easy wrong over the hard right by burying their integrity in a bunch of classified files?

And apart from “60 Minutes,” what about the press? Why hasn’t our Pentagon press corps – supposedly our country’s lead hunting dog – nosed around and reported this story? The clues were all there, and the GAO report wasn’t exactly classified. Not only did every congressional office get copies, so did the media. There is also Defense Watch editor Ed Offley’s repeated offers to share the evidence he receives on a daily basis from the very worried warriors who’ll be hung out to do the dying in a death so horrific and painful it haunts them day and night. Surely our media should have sniffed that something was terribly wrong, especially after an NBC (nuclear/biological/chemical) sergeant passed out at an air-conditioned Pentagon briefing while demonstrating how well the protective gear works.

Military pals now deployed in Iraq doing dangerous behind-the-lines missions have told me that almost every Iraqi oil well along the Turk border is wired with demolitions to replicate the lung-searing, apocalyptic horror show we saw when the Iraqi army blew the southern wells as they pulled out of Kuwait in 1991.

Other pals, computer commandos in the various head-sheds who eyeball all the reports coming in from the field, confirm this information and add an even more sinister twist: Some of the wells have bio/chem weapons rigged to go off when they explode.

Surely our brass hats, the ultimate recipients of the commo, know that the prevailing wind in Iraq is from north to south – from the Turk border over Baghdad to Kuwait – right in the face of our advancing troops. And surely they know the real status of our troops’ inability to shield themselves while on the go from these deadly agents.

Let’s hope that “60 Minutes” sparks a chain reaction, and that the mothers and fathers of America rise up and demand that our soldiers not be needlessly sacrificed.

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