Senior U.S. officials now believe that not only is the Islamic State is in possession of mustard gas, but that the group actually used the chemical agent against Kurdish troops Wednesday.
It’s unclear how or from where ISIS obtained the mustard gas, but it may have originated from large Syrian caches, The Wall Street Journal reports.
In early May, inspectors from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) discovered traces of sarin and VX in Syria, two years after the government pledged to either hand over or destroy its entire collection of chemical weapons.
“This is a pretty strong indication they have been lying about what they did with sarin,” a diplomatic source told Reuters. “They have so far been unable to give a satisfactory explanation about this finding.”
In the past, the U.S. has threatened military intervention against Syria for its reported use of sarin gas against civilians to maintain control. Syria admitted to having a chemical weapons program, but also agreed to shut the project down—completely, after which point, President Bashar al-Assad sent over 1,300 tonnes of weapons to the OPCW for disposal. He also stated that the government eradicated hundreds of tonnes of mustard gas. This claim was never verified.
It’s also possible that ISIS picked up the weapons from leftover stockpiles in Iraq, which were formerly owned by Saddam Hussein.
With new capabilities, ISIS may increase the ferocity and frequency of its attacks on U.S. allies in the region, prompting fresh concerns about the ability of Syrian and Kurdish forces to ward off incursions. Mustard gas, deployed in large quantities, can render a force ineffective, due to serious burns and blisters, and has the potential to cause death.
U.S. intelligence agencies already believed that ISIS had mustard gas in small quantities, but do not have any evidence to suggest that the group has access to sarin or VX.
“Mustard isn’t VX or sarin,” a senior U.S. military official told The Wall Street Journal. “It has to be used in high concentrations to be fatal.”
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