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Arabinda Acharya (Foreign Affiars) — In a February 2016 interview with 60 Minutes, John Brennan, director of the CIA, mentioned that the Islamic State (also known as ISIS) has, in a number of instances, “used chemical munitions on the battlefield.”
This came a few days after James Clapper, director of the United States Intelligence Community, said to a congressional committee that ISIS “has also used toxic chemicals in Iraq and Syria, including the blister agent sulfur mustard.”
Specifically, ISIS used such munitions in an August 2015 attack on the Kurds in Kobani, although reliable measures of the extent of the damage and casualties are not available.
David Larter (Navy Times) — The U.S. Navy has dispatched a small armada to the South China Sea.
The carrier John C. Stennis, two destroyers, two cruisers and the 7th Fleet flagship have sailed into the disputed waters in recent days, according to military officials. The carrier strike group is the latest show of force in the tense region, with the U.S. asserting that China is militarizing the region to guard its excessive territorial claims.
Stennis is joined in the region by the cruisers Antietam and Mobile Bay, and the destroyers Chung-Hoon and Stockdale. The command ship Blue Ridge, the floating headquarters of the Japan-based 7th Fleet, is also in the area, en route to a port visit in the Philippines. Stennis deployed from Washington state on Jan. 15.
Fatima Bhojani (Foreign Affairs) — While in Iraqi Kurdistan in January of last year, a European investigator came across a field of holes into which improvised explosive devices (IEDs) had been placed. The dots went out in a line as far as the eye could see. “They had been placed this way so that anybody who crossed that field would strike an IED,” the researcher told me, asking that his name be withheld for safety reasons.
For the past 20 months, along with a colleague, he has been meticulously examining the supply chains of the more than 700 IED components that the Islamic State (ISIS) uses in Iraq and in the Syrian Kurdish region of Rojava.
Their findings were released in a report in late February, the latest addition to a catalog of documents on ISIS weapons published by Conflict Armament Research (CAR), a private arms-tracking organization mandated by the European Union.
Nima Elbagir (CNN) — The battle for the key Iraqi city of Ramadi has opened a window into the resilience of ISIS. It took months of daily onslaughts before Iraqi forces and the U.S.-led coalition were able to expel the militants from the city center recently.
Despite this setback, ISIS still controls as much as 25% of Ramadi, local tribal leaders say. And fighting continues to rage in pockets throughout the city.
So how does ISIS evade airstrikes? In Ramadi, as in many ISIS strongholds, the answer lies below the ground. "During our advance to cleanse the area, they would distract us and disappear," Maj. Gen. Sami Kathim, commander of Iraqi Counter Terror Services, told CNN.
Reuters — Islamic State claimed responsibility for a suicide attack with an explosive-laden fuel tanker on an Iraqi police checkpoint south of Baghdad, killing at least 60 people and wounding more than 70, medical and security officials said.
Responsibility was claimed in a posting on the website of the Amaq news agency, which supports the ultra-hardline Sunni group. "A martyr's operation with a truck bomb hit the Babylon Ruins checkpoint at the entrance of the city of Hilla, killing and wounding dozens," the statement on the Amaq website said.
Hilla is the capital of Babylon province, a predominantly Shi'ite region with some Sunni presence. "It's the largest bombing in the province to date," Falah al-Radhi, the head of the provincial security committee, told Reuters. "The checkpoint, the nearby police station were destroyed as well as some houses and dozens of cars."