Leaked Documents Suggest Taliban Chemical Strike on U.S. Soldiers

Information gleaned from this week’s giant unauthorized release of tens of thousands of U.S. military documents suggest soldiers in Afghanistan might have been exposed to a chemical weapon, Wired magazine reported (see GSN, March 18).

On Sunday, the organization WikiLeaksreleased more than 91,000 documents on the war in Afghanistan. The majority were based on communications from front-line personnel, according to the Web site.

One document addresses a special operations forces effort to clear an area of multiple improvised explosive devices and battle insurgents on Feb. 14, 2009. After one bomb was detonated “a yellow cloud was emitted and personnel began feeling nauseous,” according to the combined Joint Special Operations Task Force field log. Dust samples were gathered and the team went back to its base.

“A total of 7x US MIL, 1x Interpreter and 1x K-9 dog reporting symptoms,”according to the document. “Will inform if chemical attack is confirmed.”

A subsequent document, issued six hours afterward, stated the team was undergoing medical care and examination.

“Initial medical assessment is that none of the personnel are currently experiencing symptoms …. CJSOTF surgeon assessed no need to MEDEVAC (medical evacuate) any personnel,” the report said. “The individuals have been placed on 24 hour stand down. SSE Team from KAF (Kandahar Air Field) will fly to FB Cobra on 15FEB09 to conduct testing for any residual chemicals or materials on personnel and equipment. The results of this testing will confirm or deny this event as a CBRN [chemical biological radiological nuclear] attack.”

No reports from the WikiLeaks data dump indicate the military concluded the soldiers had been subjected to a chemical strike. While such an incident appears unlikely, previous reports have pointed to concerns regarding Taliban or al-Qaeda chemical-weapon efforts, Wired reported.

The terrorist organization sought nuclear and other WMD materials as early as 1993, according to one time line by former CIA and Energy Department intelligence officer Rolf Mowatt-Larssen. Former al-Qaeda operative Abu Khabab al-Masri, now deceased, was assigned to militarize biological and chemical agents for use in terrorist attacks.

Another military field report stated that in June 2007 U.S. soldiers in eastern Afghanistan reported being tipped off to an extremist plot to contaminate the food supply of allied troops in the country by stealing coalition food trucks.

“The plan is to inject the bottles or the packages of food with unidentified chemicals, or recreate the same type of packages with contaminated versions of the same product,” the report said, adding “the source “supplied no further information.”

A separate military log report from two years ago described the arrest of a woman in Ghazni province. A search of her purse revealed multiple documents on constructing bombs and employing chemical weapons, along with quantities of unidentified chemicals, according to the field report. An update to the report described how she managed to acquire a weapon which she turned on investigators before being shot.

Wired reported that the woman is likely Aafia Siddiqui, who at one point was on the FBI’s list of most wanted terrorist fugitives. Siddiqui was convicted of the shooting attempt but has not faced any terrorism charges (see GSN, Feb. 4; Noah Shachtman, Wired I, July 26).

Another unverified WikiLeaks military report stated that al-Qaeda was plotting to produce chemical warfare agents to be disseminated by rocket-propelled grenades, the London Guardian reported.

A source told U.S. forces that Mohammad Hamzah Ahmadzai was looking into acquiring uranium for undetailed explosive uses. While the nuclear material could be purchased from an undisclosed facility in Lahore, Pakistan, the scientist found the asking price — $538 for 10 grams — too expensive, the source said.

“Hamzah was thus seeking alternative means of creating a large explosion,” according to the source (Simon Tisdall, London Guardian, July 26).

A U.S. intelligence document, also not verified, indicated that North Korea sold rockets to al-Qaeda and the Taliban, the Washington Post reported.

“On 19 November 2005, Hezb-Islami party leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar (sic) and Dr. Amin (no last name), Osama Bin Ladin’s financial advisor, both flew to North Korea departing from Iran,” according to the document.

“While in North Korea, the two confirmed a deal with the North Korean government for remote controlled rockets for use against American and coalition aircraft,” it added.

Weapons were expected to arrive in early 2006. In mid-2007, a CH-47 Chinook helicopter was brought down by a missile “shortly after crossing over the Helmand River,” another document said.

“Based on description of launch, size of round, and impact force of the projectile,” the report said, “it is assessed to be bigger then an RPG (rocket propelled grenade) and possibly a Surface-to-Air Missile,” according to that May 30, 2007, report.

“Witness statements from (troops) suggest (it) was struck by a MANPAD and is consistent with MANPAD event described by Arrow 25.,” it stated (Jeff Stein, Washington Post, July 26).

A spokesman for the NATO command in Afghanistan, though, Wired that ”we have no reports of any aircraft being damaged by” surface-to-air missiles (Spencer Ackerman, Wired II, July 27).