Dunford confirms Islamic State fired mustard agent at US troops
September 22, 2016
WASHINGTON — An Islamic State rocket that hit an Iraqi military base used by hundreds of U.S. troops contained mustard agent, Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Thursday.
“We assess it to be a sulfur mustard blister agent,” Dunford said at a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee. “It was a concerning development.”
The rocket exploded midday Tuesday at Qayyarah West Air Base. A U.S. explosives ordinance team that responded to the strike tested part of the shell and detected a residue on a fragment. Two initial tests gave different results – one positive for mustard agent, the other negative.
Because of the positive result, the explosives team was decontaminated as a precaution. No one was injured, Dunford said.
The base is an air field that U.S. and Iraqi forces are building into an operations hub for the attack against Islamic State forces in Mosul, a stronghold for the terrorist group in Iraq. It is regularly targeted by indirect fire, a senior defense official at the Pentagon said.
U.S. forces are aware of the chemical weapons threat posed by the Islamic State group and U.S. and coalition forces have hit more than 30 chemical weapons-related targets in the last year, Dunford said.
“One we struck last week, which was a pharmaceutical plant, which is part of the chemical warfare network that [the Islamic State group] has,” Dunford told lawmakers, referring to a strike earlier this month against a chemical weapons plant near Mosul.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said he is concerned all of the troops taking part in the battle for Mosul – expected to begin in October – do not have adequate chemical-protection gear. It was not clear whether he was referring to Iraqi or Kurdish forces.
The defense official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said all of the forward-deployed U.S. forces are equipped with protective gear, including a mask and suit.