Military officials are concerned that ISIS has its hands on chemical weapons. These concerns came after a senior military official confirmed preliminary tests that show traces of sulfur mustard on mortars that were fired by ISIS militants in an attack on August 11.
U.S. Brig. Gen. Kevin Killea, chief of staff for the military operations in Iraq and Syria, acknowledged that the field testing into whether or not mustard gas was used is inconclusive. Final tests are underway to get the full make-up of the chemicals.
In an interview with Fox News, Killea said that early testing showed mustard gas on fragments from mortar rounds fired on Aug. 11 against Kurdish Peshmerga forces in Iraq.
This was the first reported incident of ISIS using chemical weapons since the group came into prominence last year. The suspicions that ISIS was using chemical weapons started last week when U.S. officials noted that there was a possibility of mustard gas being used in the attack.
An official with access to the intelligence report from the attack told Fox News that the victims had “blisters” that matched the symptoms of other victims of mustard gas.
According to Killea, Kurdish forces gave the U.S. the mortar fragments for testing, which is likely going to raise questions about the chain of custody.
In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, senior U.S. officials said that the gas was likely obtained in Syria. The officials assume that since the Damascus government admitted that it had large stockpiles of the chemical when it gave up its arsenal in 2013, ISIS agents could have stolen some.
Another U.S. official believes ISIS could have obtained the chemical weapon from old weapon stockpiles belonging to former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
In the Wall Street Journal report, U.S. officials believe that ISIS was able to steal a small amount of mustard gas prior to the August 11 attack. They are worried that ISIS will discover more hidden caches of weapons in Syria, now that troops loyal to Bashar al-Assad are losing ground in the ongoing civil war.
Last week, Alistair Baskey, a spokesman for the White House’s National Security Council, said the United States is taking the allegations very seriously and is trying to get more information on what happened.
In his statement, Baskey said, “We continue to monitor these reports closely, and would further stress that any use of chemicals or biological material as a weapon is completely inconsistent with international standards and norms regarding such capabilities.”