Troubles continue for the Islamic State, as American special operation forces have captured the head of ISIS’s chemical weapons program. Intelligence gleaned from the captive has reported ISIS was in the process of using mustard gas in artillery shells. Mustard gas was first used effectively during World War I when German shells carrying the mixture were used against Allied troops on the Western Front. The weapon was banned during the Geneva Protocol of 1925 but has continued to be used in conflicts around the world.
On 4 March, American airstrikes near the Syrian town of Al Shadaddi killed Abu Umar al-Shishani, the ISIS equivalent to the Secretary of Defense. The ISIS militant was a Chechen who had traveled to Al Shadaddi from the capital of Raqqa to oversee fighters combating Kurdish troops. The Pentagon Press Secretary, Peter Cook noted that taking out al-Shishani “greatly degrades ISIS’s ability to coordinate attacks and defenses in the strongholds of Raqqa and Mosul.” With the expected offensive against ISIS in Mosul coming soon, this key removal further strengthens coalition forces in their effort to rid Iraq of ISIS control.
The ceasefire between Assad and rebel forces moves into its second week. Although there have been limited hostile exchanges between the two sides during this period, the ceasefire appears to be holding. The ceasefire only applies to the Assad regime and Free Syrian forces, while ISIS and the al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Nusra Front continue to be targeted by Allied and Russian aircraft. With the break in the fight, it is hoped Syria can begin rebuilding from the civil war that has desolated the nation.
It has been reported North Korea has fired two short-ranged ballistic missiles into the Yellow Sea as part of a continued show of force against South Korea and the United States. The missiles were fired in the early morning hours of 10 March (9 March in the United States) from locations south of the North Korean capital of Pyongyang. These missile tests coincide with the largest joint training exercise between South Korean and American forces in the region. Earlier in the week, North Korea made overt threats towards the United States, declaring it would use nuclear missiles to strike American cities. While such threats are common from the North Korean government, the continued missile tests are an example of North Koreas commitment to have weapons that could strike allied nations in the region or the American west coast.