The Islamic State’s Chemical Attack on U.S. Troops Shouldn’t Be a Surprise

WIB front September 24, 2016 0

An American soldier during a base security drill at Camp Taji, Iraq in July 2016. U.S. Army photo The Pentagon prepared for this exact event by...
An American soldier during a base security drill at Camp Taji, Iraq in July 2016. U.S. Army photo

The Pentagon prepared for this exact event


The Islamic State fired a mustard gas shell at American troops this week — a rare but not unprecedented tactic on the part of the terror group. “We assess it to be a sulfur-mustard blister agent,” Gen. Joseph Dunford said during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Sept. 22.

The attack occurred the day after at Qayara West air base, which currently hosts hundreds of U.S. troops supporting Kurdish and Iraqi army troops as they prepare for the much anticipated assault on Mosul — the country’s second largest city which has been under Islamic State control for more than two years.

Dunford emphasized that the attack resulted in no injuries.

Nevertheless, the development provoked a small panic on social media, with some frightened by the prospect that chemical weapons used on Americans could signal a new phase in the conflict. But the presence of chemical weapons in Iraq is hardly new.

In fact, Islamic State fighters have already deployed chemical weapons — typically chlorine bombs — during attacks in both Iraq and Syria. The terror group has expanded the use of chemicals in its war on Kurdish civilians and fighters in northern Iraq.

For the Kurds, chemical weapons hold a particularly bitter resonance. The large scale use of chemical weapons by Iraqi forces during the 1988 Anfal campaign killed thousands of Kurdish civilians. The campaign culminated in the Halabja Massacre, the deadliest chemical weapons attack in history.

During those days Saddam Hussein’s armies produced chemical and biological weapons with the blessing and support of Western nations, including the United States. After the 2003 invasion of Iraq to halt Hussein’s supposed production of weapons of mass destruction, coalition forces found no evidence of any active chemical, nuclear or biological program.

They did however find thousands of the old chemical weapons, including mustard gas contained inside rusty artillery shells.

The U.S. government downplayed the presence of those weapons, which served as an embarrassing reminder of America’s complicated history in the region. In October 2014, The New York Times revealed that the U.S. military often neglected to warn soldiers about the presence of old chemical ordinance, and even ordered soldiers not to talk about encounters with them.

Iraqi soldiers during a chemical defense exercise at Camp Taji, Iraq in May 2016. U.S. Army photo

The Islamic State’s use of chemical weapons is occurring on a much smaller scale.

During the group’s takeover of Mosul in the summer of 2014, its fighters seized facilities storing the aging munitions. Despite panic by some commentators, most of the old rounds were far too old and unstable for the militants to effectively repurpose.

However, U.S. officials have long known that the group has been actively working to produce and acquire chemical weapons. The United States and allies have trained Iraqi and Kurdish troops in chemical weapons protection techniques, and supplied thousands of chemical warfare suits.

A week before the attack on Qayara West, American warplanes attacked a former pharmaceutical plant near Mosul that U.S. officials claimed militants were using to produce mustard agent and other chemicals.

The attack on Qayara West also didn’t come as a shock to those following the Islamic State’s tactics and arsenals. Journalist and former U.S. Marine C.J. Chivers — who wrote the NYT feature — took to Twitter not long after Dunford’s remarks.

By the way, the most prolific user of chemical weapons in the current conflict has been the regime of Syrian Pres. Bashar Al Assad.

Despite ostensibly turning over all of Syria’s chemical weapons stores, the Assad regime has launched chlorine bombs to terrorize Syrians around the country, particularly in Aleppo.

While these weapons cause panic and induce a horrifying array of health problems — some of them long term — conventional weapons have proven far deadlier from an immediate standpoint.

Regular artillery and aerial bombardment typically kill far more people.

Chemical weapons are scary, but they aren’t necessarily the most dangerous weapon in this war.

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