According to U.S. officials and reported in the WSJ, the Islamic State likely used the chemical weapon against Kurdish forces in Iraq this week the second time in the past year the terrorist ISIS have been accused of using WMDs
The use of mustard agent would mark an upgrade in Islamic State’s battlefield capabilities, and a worrisome one given U.S. intelligence fears about hidden caches of chemical weapons in Syria, where Islamic State controls wide swaths of territory.
It raises new questions about the evolving threat posed by Islamic State and the ability of U.S. allies on the ground to combat it. Frontline Kurdish, Iraqi and moderate Syrian forces say they aren’t getting enough U.S. support now to counter Islamic State’s conventional capabilities.
Officials say these forces may need specialized equipment and training to help protect them against unconventional weapons if they become a fixture on the battlefield.
U.S. intelligence agencies thought Islamic State had at least a small supply of mustard agent even before this week’s clash with Iraqi Kurdish fighters, known as the Peshmerga, U.S. officials said. That intelligence assessment hadn’t been made public.
In Oct. 2014, ISIS was accused of using mustard gas against the Kurds on the Syrian/Turkey border. The mustard gas attack had take place three months before. As reported by the Middle East Review of International Affairs:
Prior to the current campaign, the most serious (but unsuccessful) attempt to conquer Kobani came in July 2014, shortly following the dramatic IS advance into Iraq.
It was during this assault on Kobani that evidence emerged which appeared to point to the use by the Islamic State on at least one occasion of some kind of chemical agent against the Kurdish fighters of the YPG (Peoples’ Protection Units).
The July offensive commenced on July 2nd. According to Kurdish activists, the use of the chemical agent took place on July 12th, in the village of Avdiko, in the eastern part of the Kobani enclave (now in IS hands.)
Nisan Ahmed, health minister of the Kurdish authority in Kobani, established a medical team to examine the incident. According to Ahmed, the bodies of three Kurdish fighters showed no signs of damage from bullets. Rather “burns and white spots on the bodies of the dead indicated the use of chemicals, which led to death without any visible wounds or external bleeding.”
ISIS may have captured the chemical weapons when they took over the Al Muthanna facility in Iraq which contained (according to the UN), “2,000 empty 155mm artillery shells contaminated with the chemical warfare agent mustard, 605 one-tonne mustard containers with residues, and heavily contaminated construction material.”
In 2007 the CIA reported that the supposedly degraded chemical weapons material might still be usable.
Stockpiles of chemical munitions are still stored there. The most dangerous ones have been declared to the UN and are sealed in bunkers. Although declared, the bunkers contents have yet to be confirmed.
Numerous bunkers, including eleven cruciform shaped bunkers were exploited. Some of the bunkers were empty. Some of the bunkers contained large quantities of unfilled chemical munitions.
The CIA report confirms that al-Muthanna was used for the production of chemical weaponry including mustard agent. The report also confirms that investigations have been unable to ‘unambiguously determine’ the fate of munitions at the site, and that while stockpiles clearly are stored at the site, the precise nature of these stockpiles remains unconfirmed. There are no indications that this situation has changed in the period since the report.
Mustard agent, first employed as a weapon in World War I, can cause painful burns and blisters, immobilizing those affected by it, but it is usually deadly only if used in large quantities.
“These were apparently chemical weapons. What it was exactly we don’t know,” the German ministry spokesman said, adding that experts were on their way to the scene to conduct a fuller analysis. He said German personnel weren’t present at the scene of the attack.
U.S. intelligence agencies are still investigating the source and how it could have been delivered this week on the battlefield, officials said.