Pentagon Confirms Islamic State Use of Chemical Arms

Blistering agent detected at four sites in Iraq, Syria

Kurdish soldiers survey the site of an attack in northern Iraq / AP
September 2, 2015

Defense intelligence agencies have confirmed that Islamic State terrorists have used chemical weapons in attacks in Iraq and Syria, according to defense officials.

Pentagon officials are aware of rocket and mortar attacks using the blistering agent mustard after samples from four locations in the region were analyzed, said defense officials familiar with details of the assessment.

Few details have been released of the confirmed use of chemical arms. However, officials said the chemical agent appears to have been manufactured from chemicals obtained by the Islamic State (IS), also known as ISIS or ISIL, and did not appear to be from current or older chemical weapons stockpiles kept in either Syria or Iraq.

Elissa Smith, a Pentagon spokeswoman, declined to comment on intelligence or operational matters. But Smith told the Free Beacon: "Let us be clear: any use by any party, be it state or non-state actor, of a chemical as a weapon of any kind is an abhorrent act."

"Given the alleged behavior of ISIL and other such groups in the region, any such flagrant disregard for international standards and norms is reprehensible," she said.

The fact that non-state actors such as IS may be further considering the use of chemical arms as weapons of war and terror "is a haunting symptom of the conditions created by the Assad regime when they flagrantly disregard international prohibitions against the use of chemicals as a weapon."

"These allegations are also a stark reminder to the international community of the threats posed by the ongoing chaos in Syria and the urgency of reaching a diplomatic solution to the conflict in Syria," Smith said.

The use of chemical weapons by IS comes more than two years after President Obama announced that a critical "red line" had been crossed by the Bashar Assad regime’s use of chemical attacks. He then threatened to intervene militarily in Syria’s civil war.

After Syria agreed to give up its chemical arms, the threat was withdrawn. However, in May, Syria appeared again to employ chemical attacks.

The suspected use of mustard gas-filled explosives by IS was disclosed last month after civilians reported being affected by chemicals during IS attacks in Syria’s northern Aleppo region. Residents in the town of Marea reported being hit by some 50 mortar rounds that caused symptoms of mustard gas exposure.

A second case occurred in mid-August after Kurdish fighters were exposed to an agent that produced symptoms of mustard gas exposure following an IS artillery attack on the northern Iraqi town of Makhmour.

Exposure to mustard agent results in wounds that resemble blisters and skin burns. The agent also affects lungs and other internal organs, and can be manufactured with relative ease from industrial chemicals.

The agent can affect victims’ skin, eyes, lungs, and gastro-intestinal tracts, as well as other internal organs. Symptoms are not immediate and only appear two to 24 hours after exposure.

The weapon was first used in World War I and has been outlawed under an international convention.

A survivor of the Syrian attack, Ahmed Latouf, told Britain’s Guardian newspaper that the Aug. 21 chemical attack was carried out using artillery shells.

As many as 25 people were killed in the attack on Marea. An estimated 59 chemical-infused artillery shells were fired from IS-controlled territory about five miles from the town, north of Aleppo.

In northern Iraq, Brig. Gen. Sirwan Barzani told CNN that the attack on Makhmour took place Aug. 12 and that the chemical agent was contained in mortar shells.

The attacks caused breathing problems and skin injuries, and Barzani said samples were given to U.S.-led coalition members.

The Kurdish leader said the substance was "very dangerous" and that his forces urgently need protective gear.

A CIA spokesman referred questions to the Pentagon.

A State Department spokesman said that "we don’t have anything on that… Our understanding is that this is still under review."

At the White House, a senior administration official declined to confirm the intelligence finding of mustard gas use. The official said a further review of the details of the chemical attacks is expected.