CBRN Terrorism: Kurdish Peshmerga Forces Facing New ISIS Threat


The threat of terrorism from conventional weapons, such as tanks, assault rifles, etc. has been the typical method of terror for most terrorist groups. However, the use of unconventional weapons, namely chemical weapons, has now become the new norm for ISIS (a different type of terrorist group) and has become a globally acknowledged threat. Kurdish Peshmerga Forces have their hands full as they single-handedly battle ISIS on the ground with conventional weapons, and recently they are also faced with the unconventional weapons threat, namely chlorine gas IEDs.

KIRKUK, IRAQ - MARCH 14 :  In this undated photo made on March 14, 2015, by the Kurdish Region Security Council (KRSC), Peshmerga forces walk around the site of a bomb attack on a road between Mosul, Iraq in northern Iraq. Kurdish authorities in Iraq said they have evidence that Daesh (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) used chlorine gas as a chemical weapon against peshmerga fighters. (Photo by Pool - Kurdish Region Security Council/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
KIRKUK, IRAQ – MARCH 14 : In this  photo made on March 14, 2015, by the Kurdish Region Security Council (KRSC), Peshmerga forces walk around the site of a bomb attack on a road between Mosul, Iraq in northern Iraq. (Photo by Pool – Kurdish Region Security Council/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Known as one of the world’s deadliest and most dangerous jihadists, ISIS originated within Al-Qa’eda with the goal of creating an Islamic state across Iraq and Syria. ISIS, led by Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, ascended in Iraq in the spring of 2014 and started their slaughter in Mosul, home of a large population of Assyrians. Their mission and apocalyptic ideology is to establish an Islamic Caliphate in the world for which they receive an ample amount of media attention. Their primary funding source comes from looting banks, invading oil refineries, holding hostages for ransom, and many more inhumane acts like these, for which they use to obtain conventional and unconventional weapons, including chemical weapons.

Unlike their Al-Qa’eda predecessors, ISIS target every nation, every race, and every religion, with no remorse. They feed on chaos and after crisis broke out in Syria and then in Iraq; they took advantage of the perfect opportunity to take their terror to these unstable countries. With only a small force of 25,000 to 30,000 killers, ISIS has been able to globalize their brand and spread terror in the world. They have capitalized on their branding via the social network and media outlets leading the world to believe that they are larger than life. They have been marketing their brand to give the illusion that they are an unstoppable force, thus appealing to younger generations and sympathizers via social outlets, such as Facebook, Twitter, Blogs, etc.

The truth of the matter is that they are a defeated force; they have been defeated on the battle field. It is the lone wolf attacks, however, that they carry out that make them seem like they’re invincible. The outrage across the globe is the declaration of pledge of allegiance to ISIS by radical individuals and small terrorist groups who are incapable of carrying out massive attacks on their own.

In addition to the danger of their recruiting strategy, there is also significant concern regarding ISIS and its acquisition and use of CBRN weapons. The threat here is that there are already ample amounts of evidence of chemical use, such as chlorine gas, by ISIS in Syria and Iraq against Kurdish Peshmerga Forces. These chemical weapons reportedly came from large chemical facilities, such as the Muthanna facility, that ISIS overtook in Iraq last year. Since then, reports have surfaced that ISIS used some kind of chemical weapon that instantly killed Kurdish YPG fighters during clashes in Kobani, Syria, which had been determined to be chlorine gas.

There have also been numerous other reports about ISIS’s CBRN use attempt. According to Iraqi security officials, several ISIS militants had been injured in improvised chemical devices (ICDs) explosions, and several ISIS members had been killed while filling rocket warheads with chlorine gas. Even more frightening reports have surfaced of a “doomed laptop” that had been confiscated from an

ISIS militant’s apartment (a chemistry student) that stored many documents and manuals on how to develop and use biological weapons (BW). Most people fear that it’s only the matter of time before they attempt to conduct a BW attack as well.

Despite the scare of CBRN use, Kurdish Peshmerga Forces continue to expel ISIS from the Syrian city of Kobani and are also fighting them near Mosul, Iraq, Sinjar Mountain, the site of a dramatic siege this summer by militants of ethnic minority Yazidis, Kirkuk, where one of the largest oil refineries reside, and many other battlegrounds. Not only are they being directly affected by this CBRN threat but they also have no equipment or training to fight this threat. Therefore, if ISIS resorted to unconventional weapons, the Kurdish Peshmerga Forces would be at a major disadvantage. But they are not the only ones who are unprepared for this threat. The U.S. government has also asserted that it is not prepared to deal with chemical attacks in the U.S. as ISIS gains access to chemical weapons stockpiles in Syria.

In light of these recent CW attacks and heightened BW attempt threat by ISIS, the US and many other countries, including European and Middle Eastern countries, have spent billions of dollars on CBRN defense equipment and training, as well as the prevention of proliferation of CBRN material and weapons, which have achieved variable levels of international cooperation. The brutality that ISIS has displayed since its inception, even towards other Muslims, has led many nation leaders to reexamine their defense strategy and start alliance talks with the U.S., including the formation of coalition forces to face these CBRN threats.

The Kurdish Peshmerga Forces have been exceptionally successful in battling their enemy with conventional weapons as they are undoubtedly winning the war against ISIS. However, when it comes to unconventional weapons, such as chemical (and even biological weapons), they are facing this CBRN threat with limited to no supplies to protect themselves. Thus as more and more countries join the U.S.-led coalition forces and contribute to the war against ISIS with various types of aid, the Kurdish Peshmerga Forces are staying hopeful that someday they can receive the proper protective equipment that will prepare them to face any type of CBRN weapon exposure. But for now, they’re on their own.

If you are interested in listening to first hand experiences of the fight against ISIS, come and listen to the Director of the Intelligence Agency of the Kurdish Regional Government presentation at NCT CBRNe Asia 2015!

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Zamawang Almemar has received two Bachelors degrees in Chemistry and Biology and two Masters degrees in Chemistry and Mechanical Engineering from the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. While there, she taught graduate courses in Biology and Mechanical Engineering, and was a PhD Graduate Fellow in Mechanical Engineering. She is currently studying Biodefense at George Mason University with emphasis on Terrorism and CBRN, and is working for the Department of Defense at the Pentagon. Zamawang is from Sulaimanyiah, in Iraqi Kurdistan, from where she fled with her family, seeking asylum in the USA in 1997.