As the Islamic State’s military position worsens in West Mosul, “so too does their humanity,” Major General Joseph Martin, commander of coalition ground forces in Iraq, told a news conference on Wednesday.
Martin said “hundreds” of Iraqi civilians are being murdered by ISIS “on a weekly basis.” And he said chemical weapons were used this past weekend on Iraqi Security Forces that are trying to liberate the city, with the help of U.S. and coalition troops.
“Daesh has used chemicals in the vicinity of Mosul,” Martin said. “The chemicals have had no impact on the Iraqi Security Forces. They had no impact on our forces.
“And we're not certain at this time exactly what the agent is. We have sent (samples) back for testing. But we're still waiting for the outcomes of those tests, based on my understanding."
Martin refused to say how many Iraqi troops were affected by ISIS’ chemical attack: “But what I'll tell you is that they were all treated and they were all taken to the appropriate level of care to make sure that they were all right.”
Martin said all U.S. and coalition troops that are supporting the Iraqis have the “appropriate equipment” to protect themselves. "They've been trained on how to use that equipment. And they've been … trained to help the Iraqis if the Iraqis ever run into another instance where Daesh decides to use chemicals.
Martin said the chemicals were delivered by “indirect fire.” Australian and American troops apparently were in the area when the chemicals were lobbed at the Iraqi Security Forces, but Martin refused to confirm those reports or even say if they had to put on their protective gear.
“Unfortunately, I'm not going to get into the details of a specific -- a specific vignette as to what happened. What I'll tell you is that we're forward with the Iraqis each and every day. And with that, we share some risk with them.
"But we're ready for that risk. We understand the importance of that. And we understand the commitment it takes to -- to share that risk with the Iraqis, and we've got the equipment to protect ourselves in case we need to."
Martin said the U.S. military is “still testing” to find out what chemical was used. “But the chemicals that they've used in the past are all low-grade chemicals because of their lack of production capability. And so we don't know what we'll find this time. But in the past, it's been a low-grade capability.”
He called it “good news” that “nobody’s been impacted significantly by this.”
On another topic, Martin could not say how many ISIS fighters are left in West Mosul: “But what I can tell you is that the number is going down each and every day.
“They're fighting tougher and tougher, and as I stated previously, their inhumanity continues to increase as they become more desperate. They're surrounded. There's foreign fighters -- there are some foreign fighters that remain. Foreign fighters have nowhere to go. They can fight, surrender, or die.”