Text Only | Disarmament Diplomacy | Disarmament Documentation | ACRONYM Reports
Back to the Acronym home page
British Policy
South Asia
About Acronym

Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 29, August - September 1998

US Strikes Afghanistan and Sudan,
Claims Sudanese Target CW-Related

On 20 August, the United States launched cruise missile attacks against targets in Afghanistan and Sudan. The attacks were aimed at destroying an alleged terrorist training and communications centre in Afghanistan and an alleged chemical weapons-related factory in Sudan: they were launched less than a fortnight after the terrorist bombings in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, aimed at US embassies, which resulted in hundreds of deaths and thousands of serious injuries. According to President Clinton:

"Today we have struck back. The United States launched an attack this morning on one of the most active terrorist bases in the world. It is located in Afghanistan and operated by groups affiliated with Osama bin Ladin, a network not sponsored by any State, but as dangerous as any we face. We also struck a chemical weapons-related facility in Sudan. ..."

The link between the two targets was stressed in a 21 August US State Department Fact Sheet:

"[T]he US has reliable intelligence that the bin Ladin network has been actively seeking to acquire weapons of mass destruction - including chemical weapons - for use against United States interests. Therefore, the US also attacked one facility in Sudan associated with chemical weapons and the bin Ladin network. This facility is located within a secured chemical plant in the northeast Khartoum area. US intelligence over the past few months has indicated that the bin Ladin network has been actively seeking to acquire chemical weapons for use against United States interests. Bin Ladin has extensive ties to the Sudanese Government and its industrial sector. The US is confident this Sudanese Government-controlled facility is involved in the production of chemical weapons agents."

On 25 August, unnamed US intelligence officials told reporters that, prior to the attack, the US had acquired soil samples taken from around the facility - the al-Shifa Pharmaceutical Industries Company. According to the officials, the sample clearly revealed the presence of an acid, O-ethylmethylphosphonothioic (generally known by its acronym, EMPTA), which is a chemical precursor to the VX nerve agent. One official claimed that the precursor was not used in any commercial process: "It is a substance that has no commercial applications, it doesn't occur naturally in the environment, it's not a byproduct of any other chemical processes. The only thing you can use it for, that we know of, is to make VX." There were suggestions in a number of reports that the facility was linked not only to bin Ladin, but also to the Iraqi Government.

The Sudanese authorities adamantly insisted that the factory was the State's most important facility for producing medical pharmaceuticals, and was utilised for no other purpose. Speaking on 25 August, Sudan's Information Minister, Ghazi Salahuddin, rejected the 'evidence' apparently supplied by the soil sample obtained by the US: "They still have not produced any concrete evidence... They cannot prove it by claiming to have contaminated soil." Speaking the same day, Foreign Minister Mustafa Osman Ismail repeated his Government's request for the United Nations to conduct a thorough and urgent investigation of the destroyed factory: "We are expecting them...to send an investigation team."

Also on 25 August, an unnamed UN official confirmed to reporters that the destroyed facility had been producing medical exports included under the UN's 'oil-for-food' programme designed to relieve humanitarian suffering in Iraq. A UN coordinator in Khartoum, Philippe Borel, expressed his concern over the bombing on 24 August: "We are very concerned about this incident... What we have to put into perspective is the suffering of the Sudanese people from this terrible [10-year-old civil] war... It's tough to add suffering to suffering."

International political reaction was divided along predictable lines, with varying degrees of approval from key US allies such as Canada, Germany, France and the UK, and varying degrees of condemnation throughout the Islamic world. Russia, too, was fiercely critical, with President Yeltsin declaring on 21 August: "My attitude is indeed negative as it would be to any act of terrorism, military interference, failure to solve a problem through talks... I am outraged and I denounce this."

Reports: Transcript - Clinton announces anti-terrorist strikes, United States Information Service, 20 August; Berger - strikes in Sudan destroy chemical precursor factory, United States Information Service, 21 August; Russia slams raids, allies rally round Clinton, Reuters, 21 August; Suspected chemical in Sudan among deadliest known, Reuters, 21 August; Sudan refutes chemical weapons talk, Associated Press, 21 August; Fact Sheet - US strike on facilities in Afghanistan and Sudan, United States Information Service, 22 August; Sudan wants UN to check US chemical weapons claim, Reuters, 24 August; Pharmaceutical is Sudan's only 'oil-for-food' export, Reuters, 25 August; Sudan says US soil test at factory invalid, Reuters, 25 August; US - Sudan plant worked with Iraq, Associated Press, 25 August; US intelligence defends VX-Sudan link, Reuters, 25 August; US has chemical weapons-related soil sample from Sudan plant, United States Information Service, 25 August.

© 1998 The Acronym Institute.

Return to top of page

Return to List of Contents

Return to Acronym Main Page