U.S. troops south of Baghdad believe they have captured Russian chemical warheads along with a launcher and a chemical warfare specialist, according to a reporter embedded with the 3rd Infantry Division.

The warheads – discovered in a confrontation with Saddam Hussein’s Medina division about 60 miles south of Baghdad – have been transferred for testing, according to Paul Strand of the Christian Broadcasting Network.

A spokesman for the U.S. Army Central Command in Kuwait, Dani Burrows, told WND that her office could not confirm the report. Diane Perry said her Pentagon office had not heard the report but noted that embedded reporters often are getting stories ahead of the Defense Department.

Strand, quoting a “highly placed source,” said by telephone that the American troops are not certain they found all of the Medina division’s chemical weapons and fear they might be “hit by chemical shells any time now.”

The captured warheads had Russian writing on them, he said.

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The reporter noted a report several days ago that Saddam Hussein has pushed the level of authority for using these weapons down to the level of commanders on the front lines.

“That means young officers have the orders now that they can go ahead and use these things if they feel like they are about to be overtaken,” he said.

Strand said the 3rd Infantry troops are fully equipped with gear to protect from chemical agents.

“The soldiers I have talked to seem very comfortable about getting hit with this stuff,” he said. “The only thing is, nobody wants to live in those masks for weeks.”

Concerns were raised Monday by a report that Saddam’s Republican Guard units are authorized to use chemical weapons once American troops cross a red line the Iraqis have drawn around a map of Baghdad.

News reports Sunday indicating that U.S. forces had discovered an Iraqi chemical weapons facility have not been verified.

”It’s a bit early for us to have any expectation of having found [any weapons],” Gen. Tommy Franks said Monday at U.S. Central Command in Qatar. ”We’ll wait for the days ahead.”

The Bush administration has insisted that Iraq is concealing an extensive biological and chemical weapons program. While making its case for the necessity of disarming Saddam by force, U.S. officials claimed Iraq has 1.5 tons of VX nerve gas, nearly 20,000 liters of anthrax and 30,000 artillery shells or rocket warheads capable of carrying chemical or biological agents.

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