US captures 'IS' chemical weapons expert
The US military has captured a chemical weapons specialist for the self-declared "Islamic State," (IS) group, American media reported on Wednesday. Sleiman Daoud al-Afari, who was once in the employ of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's Military Industrialization Authority, was detained a month ago.
The arrest was one of the first major successes for Barack Obama's new, more direct pursuit of IS by elite special forces on the ground.
The New York Times has reported that al-Afari told US officials in Iraq that the jihadists had plans to use banned substances like mustard gas on their enemies. Allegedly, IS has already managed to break down the gas to powder form for loading into shells.
Al-Afari was being held in Erbil, Iraq, after being captured near the northern town of Tal Afar. His arrest came shortly after the arrival of a new unit composed mostly of Delta Force commandos in the country. It is the first such force on the ground in Iraq following the US troop withdrawal in 2011.
According to The Associated Press, IS is desperate to create an arsenal of chemical weapons to use in Iraq and Syria. Their progress so far, however, has been rather limited. The group lacks not only the expertise, but also the necessary tools and supplies to make anything that could be used for a large-scale attack.
One US Defense official told The New York Times that the mustard gas that IS has might injure someone, but was not concentrated enough to be deadly.
But Navy Captain Jeff Davis, a spokesman for the Pentagon, said the chemical artillery shells "can primarily aggravate but in large doses can absolutely kill."
Thus far, Washington has kept the ground operation against IS under wraps as much as possible. It is not known how many special forces are present, although the media has estimated it may be fewer than 100 soldiers.
es/jm (AP, New York Times)