Islamic State forces have fired crude chemical weapons at US troops in Iraq, the Pentagon has confirmed, a startling disclosure that US officials promptly downplayed as resulting in no deaths or injuries.
The attack came from a powdered mustard agent delivered in a mortar or rocket shell and fired on US forces on Tuesday at the Qayyarah West air base near Mosul. The air base, recaptured from Isis in July, is a pivotal staging ground for a highly anticipated attack on Mosul, Isis’s capital in Iraq approximately 40 miles (65km) to the north. Mustard, a banned chemical weapon, is relatively easy to manufacture and has a low incidence of lethality in all but extreme doses, such as the bombardment that former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein used on Kurdish civilians and Iranian soldiers in the 1980s and early 1990s.
The blistering agent is most dangerous when concocted in a gas form, but a Pentagon spokesman stated on Wednesday evening that tests performed indicated Isis had delivered the “imprecise and crude” weapon in a powdered state. “It was mustard agent in a powderized form – the same thing we have seen [Isis] use to little effect many times in the past in both Syria and Iraq.” said navy captain Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman.
“No service members showed signs or symptoms of mustard exposure. This attack has not impacted our mission in any way, nor have we changed our security posture in the area around Qayyarah.”
Isis has used chemical munitions on a “number of instances” in Iraq and Syria, according to CIA director John Brennan in a February interview, including mustard and chlorine.