US expects IS to use chemical weapons in Mosul
WASHINGTON: The United States expects the Islamic State (IS) to use crude chemical weapons as it tries to repel an Iraqi-led offensive on the city of Mosul, US officials say, although adding that the group’s technical ability to develop such weapons is highly limited.
US forces have begun to regularly collect shell fragments to test for possible chemical agents, given IS use of mustard agent in the months before Monday’s launch of the Mosul offensive, one official said.
In a previously undisclosed incident, US forces confirmed the presence of a sulfur mustard agent on IS munition fragments on Oct 5, a second official said.
The IS had targeted local forces, not US or coalition troops.
“Given IS’s reprehensible behaviour and flagrant disregard for international standards and norms, this event is not surprising,” the second official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
US officials do not believe IS has been successful so far at developing chemical weapons with particularly lethal effects, meaning that conventional weapons are still the most dangerous threat for advancing Iraqi and Kurdish forces – and any foreign advisers who get close enough.
Sulfur mustard agents can cause blistering on exposed skin and lungs. At low doses, however, that would not be deadly.
Roughly 5,000 US forces are in Iraq. More than 100 of them are embedded with Iraqi and Kurdish Peshmerga forces involved with the Mosul offensive, advising commanders and helping them ensure coalition air power hits the right targets, officials said. Still, those forces are not at the front lines, they added.
US President Barack Obama estimated last week that perhaps one million civilians are still in Mosul, creating a challenge for those trying to expel the group through force.
IS fighters were preventing people fleeing Mosul, residents said, and one said they directed some towards buildings they had recently used themselves.
“It’s quite clear Daesh (IS) has started to use civilians as human shields by allowing families to stay in buildings likely to be targeted by air strikes,” said Abu Mahir, who lives near the city’s university. – Reuters