Leaked documents indicate Taliban developing chemical weapons

Part of the package of documents leaked to the media through Wikileaks indicate that the Taliban have at some point possessed chemical weapons, and are prepared to transfer them to other groups. The documents, processed by the Guardian newspaper (among others), show a ‘threat report’ compiled by US forces that discusses the transfer of chemical-tipped rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) rounds to regional Taliban commanders. It goes on to discuss Taliban attempts to purchase uranium for use with explosives. According to the report, Dr Mohammad Hamzah Ahmadzai, an associate of a leading Taliban commander, provided a local Taliban group with two chemical-tipped RPG rounds. The local Taliban group consequently placed themselves under the control of Hamzah’s associate to ensure continued access to these weapons.

The report further suggests that Hamzah was able to develop these weapons through knowledge acquired from engineers in the Punjab province of Pakistan, who in turn claim they learnt from the infamous Pakistani nuclear smuggler A. Q. Khan. The report also reveals further concerns over the involvement of Pakistani individuals, as it suggests that Hamzah was hoping to obtain uranium from an unspecified factory in Lahore, but found that at a cost of $538 for 10 grams it was too expensive.

No information is given as to any potential targets of the chemical weapons, and so far no evidence has been found that these RPG rounds were used on coalition forces. However, a battlefield communication dated 14 February 2009 describes an operation in which coalition forces could well have been exposed to chemical agents. During a controlled detonation of an explosive device, ‘a yellow cloud was emitted and personnel began feeling nauseous’, according to the log. Although coalition forces collected samples for the purpose of identification, the report does not confirm whether or not the cloud contained chemical agents. Even if the explosive device did contain chemical agents, the battlefield log demonstrates that the Taliban would have, at best, only a rudimentary chemical weapon capacity.

Hugh Chalmers, London

Sources:‘Al-Qaida allegedly developing chemical weapons’ The Guardian, 25th July 2010, ‘Chem Weapons Scare, Osama Clue in WikiLeaks’ Wired Magazine, 26th July 2010