The U.S. military has conducted airstrikes against targets it believes are crucial to ISIS’ chemical weapons program based on information provided by a senior ISIS operative involved in chemical weapons, several U.S. officials told CNN.
The U.S. captured the operative in Iraq three weeks ago, the first since a team of Special Operations forces recently began operating in northern Iraq. One official called him “the key leader,” but others could not say if he runs the entire chemical weapons program for ISIS.
The information he provided to interrogators has given the U.S. enough information to begin striking ISIS areas in Iraq associated with the group’s chemical weapons program. One U.S. official said the goal is to locate, target and carry out strikes that will result in the destruction of ISIS’s entire chemical weapons enterprise — mainly mustard agent ISIS produces itself.
And who is this key detainee? Here’s ABC News:
The two Iraqi officials identified the man as Sleiman Daoud al-Afari, who worked for Saddam Hussein’s now-dissolved Military Industrialization Authority where he specialized in chemical and biological weapons. They said al-Afari, who is about 50 years old, heads the Islamic State group’s recently established branch for the research and development of chemical weapons.
I have two thoughts. First, these attacks show the immense value of human intelligence. Capturing this single detainee could have averted a disastrous chemical attack. At the very least it reminds us of the need to be vigilant. Aerial campaigns have tremendous value, no doubt, but there is no substitute for boots on the ground — even in small teams — when seeking comprehensive information. For almost eight years we’ve emphasized air power and air strikes over holding ground and capturing enemy leaders, and the jihadist threat has only grown.
Second, as America is distracted by one of the wildest political campaigns in a half-century, these strikes serve as a reminder of the immense stakes. Unless we can be confident that these strikes have wiped out ISIS’s chemical capabilities (I’m skeptical), the next president will confront an actual WMD-armed or WMD-capable jihadist force that will still hold considerable territory in the Middle East and North Africa. Even if its WMD capabilities are substantially degraded, these strikes are a reminder of ISIS’s intentions. There is no limit to its depravity.