Baghdad: US special forces captured the head of the Islamic State group's unit trying to develop chemical weapons in a raid last month in northern Iraq, the first known major success of Washington's more aggressive policy of pursuing the jihadis on the ground.
The Obama administration launched the new strategy in December, deploying a commando force to Iraq that it said would be dedicated to capturing and killing IS leaders in clandestine operations, as well as generating intelligence leading to more raids.
US officials said last week that the expeditionary team had captured an Islamic State leader but had refused to identify him, saying only that he had been held for two or three weeks and was being questioned.
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, two senior Iraqi intelligence officials told the Associated Press.
He was captured in a raid near the northern Iraqi town of Tal Afar, the officials said. They would not give further details.
The officials, who both have first-hand knowledge of the individual and of the IS chemical program, spoke on condition of anonymity as they are not authorized to brief the media. No confirmation was available from U.S. Officials.
The US-led coalition began targeting IS' chemical weapons infrastructure with airstrikes and special operations raids over the past two months, the Iraqi intelligence officials and a Western security official in Baghdad told the AP.
Airstrikes are targeting laboratories and equipment, and further special forces raids targeting chemical weapons experts are planned, the intelligence officials said. They and the Western official spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the press.