(This is an addendum to my March 2, 2016 article, Delta versus ISIS - American special operations forces expand their mission in Iraq.)
According to two senior Iraqi intelligence officers, the target of last month's U.S. Special Operations Forces raid in northern Iraq was the chief of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) unit charged with the development of chemical weapons. Information developed from that capture has lead to American strikes on suspected chemical weapons development facilities in northern Iraq.
The target of the raid was identified by the officers as Sulayman Da'ud al-'Afari, a former official in the Saddam Husayn-era Military Industrialization Corporation, the organization which developed and produced Iraq's arsenal of chemical weapons in the 1980's.* Many of the senior ISIS leadership are former Iraqi military officers, Ba'ath Party officials or Saddam regime functionaries.
According to the officers, the American raid occurred near the city of Tal'afar (also called Tal Afar), a key area about 35 miles west of the Iraq's second largest city of Mosul. Mosul has been under ISIS control since they seized it from the collapsing Iraqi Army in early June 2014. Tal'afar is a critical junction on the ISIS line of communication between Mosul and its self-proclaimed capital in al-Raqqah, Syria.
|Tal'afar - Mosul - Irbil (from where the operation was launched)|
The Iraqis have extensive experience in the use of chemical weapons, probably more than any other country. On March 16, 1988, they stunned the world with their sarin nerve gas attack on the Iraqi Kurdish city of Halabjah. That attack turned out to be a field test of the newly-developed agent.
That nerve agent was used extensively - primarily via artillery - in the four major offensives of 1988, beginning with the liberation of the al-Faw Peninsula (Operation Blessed Ramadan) one month later in April.
By way of disclosure, I was in Baghdad during this period as a liaison officer to the Iraqi Directorate of Military Intelligence. During my trips to the battlefields in southern Iraq, I was able to gather evidence of Iraqi chemical weapons usage in these offensives, offensives that eventually forced the Iranians to ask for a ceasefire.
I applaud the new direction of the American effort in Iraq. It is only with increased U.S. and coalition assistance that the Iraqi forces will be able to attain their stated goal of retaking Mosul from ISIS by the end of the year. General Lloyd Austin, commander of the U.S. Central Command told a Senate panel yesterday that retaking Mosul will take "additional capabilities."
Kudos to the special operations forces who undertook the high-risk operation - it is yielding high-value intelligence. This is how the intelligence-driven operations cycle is supposed to work.
* The Military Industrialization Corporation - responsible for Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs - was headed by Lieutenant General Husayn Kamil, Saddam Husayn's son in law. In 1995, the general defected to Jordan with his wife, brother and his brother's wife (another daughter of Saddam Husayn). The general was a gold mine of information on the Iraqi weapons programs - I was involved in his debriefings in Jordan.
In 1996, the group returned to Iraq after Saddam threatened to kill their extended families. Upon return, the two brothers were immediately divorced from Saddam's daughters and killed in a bloody firefight in Baghdad, allegedly at the hands of family members seeking to avenge their honor. In reality, they were killed by the Iraqi security services. Their bodies were dragged through the streets as a warning to others - if Saddam was willing to do this to his sons in law, no one was beyond his wrath.