ARLINGTON, Va. — While taking down the insurgent stronghold of Tal Afar, U.S. troops discovered a crude chemical weapon, the commander of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment said Tuesday.

The troops had just entered a building when their ears and throats started to burn, said Army Col. H.R. McMaster in a briefing to reporters.

U.S. forces determined insurgents had rigged the chemicals to explosives, McMaster said, though he did not identify the type of chemical.

“We evacuated the civilians from the area and we demolished that building without a hazard to the people,” McMaster said.

He said several families were living near the building, suggesting insurgents intended to detonate the chemical weapon to harm them and blame it on coalition forces, he said.

McMaster hailed operations in Tal Afar as a major success against an “unscrupulous” enemy.

“They are some of the worst human beings on the face of the Earth, and there is no real greater pleasure for us than to kill or capture these individuals,” he said.

In recent operations in the Tal Afar area, U.S. forces killed and captured hundreds of terrorists who had taken over the city and ruled by terror, McMaster said.

McMaster called the insurgents “unscrupulous.” In one incident, insurgents killed a boy and then put a bomb inside his body and detonated it when his parents came along, he said.

Tal Afar’s residents recognized the insurgents for the thugs they are and provided U.S. and Iraqi forces with critical intelligence, McMaster said.

“The people are sick and tired of this violence, of this enemy, and they are very grateful for our efforts and the Iraqi efforts particularly to rid them of this enemy,” he said.

Another element in the successful operation was the Iraqi security forces, which served as a capable backup for U.S. troops, McMaster said.

“These Iraqi soldiers are brave, they’re courageous, they’re building capabilities every day and we are drawing strength from their example,” he said.

Still, the Iraqi security forces are not yet able to conduct operations on their own, and coalition forces do not have enough troops to secure Tal Afar, McMaster said.

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