The CIA, working in coordination with U.S. troops, bought and destroyed hundreds of nerve agent rockets during the occupation of Iraq under a nonproliferation plan dubbed Operation Avarice, The New York Times (NYT) reports.
Current and former U.S. officials told The Times that the arms purchase operation was “part of a previously undisclosed effort to ensure that old chemical weapons remaining in Iraq did not fall into the hands of terrorists or militant groups.”
Operation Avarice began in 2005 and carried into 2006. It was considered a “nonproliferation success” by the U.S military, according to the article.
“It led to the United States’ acquiring and destroying at least 400 Borak rockets, one of the internationally condemned chemical weapons that Saddam Hussein’s Baathist government manufactured in the 1980s but that were not accounted for by United Nations inspections mandated after the 1991 Persian Gulf war,” reports NYT.
The purchases were reportedly made from a sole secretive Iraqi seller.
U.S. officials and veterans of the military units involved in the operation told The Times that “many rockets were in poor condition and some were empty or held a nonlethal liquid… But others contained the nerve agent sarin, which analysis showed to be purer than the intelligence community had expected given the age of the stock.”
Most of the American officials and Iraq War veterans who spoke to NYT about the arms purchasing operation did so on the condition of anonymity because some related information remains classified.
Information related to the amount of taxpayer funds that the U.S. spent on the chemical weapons or the affiliations of the seller is not available to the public, notes the article.
CIA agents worked with American troops out of the CIA station in Baghdad.
The CIA refused to comment. NYT notes that the “the Pentagon, citing continuing secrecy about the effort, did not answer written questions and acknowledged its role only obliquely.”
“The potency of sarin samples from the purchases [under Operation Avarice], as well as tightly held assessments about risks the munitions posed, buttresses veterans’ claims that during the war the military did not share important intelligence about battlefield perils with those at risk or maintain an adequate medical system for treating victims of chemical exposure,” adds the article.
An NYT investigation published in October revealed that U.S. troops had secretly encountered thousands of chemical weapons in Iraqi territory.
Americans and Iraqis were reportedly wounded by those weapons. The U.S. government kept much of that information under wraps, according to the NYT investigation.
“Not long after Operation Avarice had secured its 400th rocket, in 2006, American troops were exposed several times to other chemical weapons,” The Times acknowledges. “Many of these veterans said that they had not been warned by their units about the risks posed by the chemical weapons and that their medical care and follow-up were substandard, in part because military doctors seemed unaware that chemical munitions remained in Iraq.”
Some victims told The Times that superior officers barred them from discussing their exposure to chemical weapons.
“The Pentagon now says hundreds of other veterans reported on health-screening forms that they believed they too had been exposed during the [Iraq] war,” mentions NYT.