THE PENTAGON YESTERDAY admitted the use of white phosphorus in Fallujah for more than incindiary purposes. Initial denials by the State Department are now inoperative. [story]
Lt. Col. Barry Venable, a Pentagon spokesman, said that while white phosphorous is most frequently used to mark targets or obscure a position, it was used at times in Fallujah as an incendiary weapon against enemy combatants. "It was not used against civilians," Venable said.
THE USE OF WHITE PHOSPHORUS at Fallujah has created a firestorm of criticism and countercharges. The weapon, also known as “Willie Pete” and WP has been reported on previously at The Heretik here, here and here. While the use of WP is legal for illumination and against enemy soldiers, whether it was used againts civilians is still in doubt. Why do you deny using something if there was nothing wrong with its use?
THE INITIAL WP denial made no sense. The army admitted its used in Field Artillery magazine.
"WP proved to be an effective and versatile munition," the authors wrote. "We used it for screening missions at two breeches and, later in the fight, as a potent psychological weapon against the insurgents in trench lines and spider holes when we could not get effects on them with HE (high explosive)" munitions. "We fired `shake and bake' missions at the insurgents, using WP to flush them out and HE to take them out." The authors added, in citing lessons for future urban battles, that fire-support teams should have used another type of smoke bomb for screening missions in Fallujah "and saved our WP for lethal missions."
ARGUMENTS ABOUND that war is hell and armed conflict cannot be won by the hands of angels alone. Fallujah presents an interesting case where man declares earth hell. Before the onslaught to flush out “terrorists” and “insurgents,” “civilians” were told to leave. In Fallujah the devil would have his due. Sectors of the city were kill zones. Some will call it moral to tell a city what will be and order all citizens to leave. But Iraqis of Fallujah who could not or did not leave, who love their spot on earth, found themselves in one hot corner of hell. If civilians are found in such hot spots of a total war in hell, how can we expect our soldiers here on earth to see them clearly for what they are. TOTAL WAR to some means total destruction. We engage in shake and bake missions, Fallujah is an Easy Bake oven, but some questions still burn. [BBC]
The US-led assault on Falluja - a stronghold of the Sunni insurgency
west of Baghdad - displaced most of the city's 300,000 population and
left many of its buildings destroyed.
Col Venable told the BBC's PM radio programme that the US army used
white phosphorus incendiary munitions "primarily as obscurants, for
smokescreens or target marking in some cases.
"However it is an incendiary weapon and may be used against enemy combatants."
And he said it had been used in Falluja, but it was a "conventional munition", not a chemical weapon.
It is not "outlawed or illegal", Col Venable said.
He said US forces could use white phosphorus rounds to flush enemy troops out of covered positions.
"The combined effects of the fire and smoke - and in some case the
terror brought about by the explosion on the ground - will drive them
out of the holes so that you can kill them with high explosives," he
THE HERETIK NOTES the odd use of the word terror in the fight against terrorists. War is horror and terror. The word terrorist evolved to describe those who would use indiscriminate methods of war against civilians. In the end the story of Fallujah may fall into smoky haze of language with much incindiary but little illuminated.
A spokesman at the UK Ministry of Defence said the use of white phosphorus was permitted in battle in cases where there were no civilians near the target area. But Professor Paul Rodgers, of the University of Bradford's department of peace studies, said white phosphorus could be considered a chemical weapon if deliberately aimed at civilians. He told PM: "It is not counted under the chemical weapons convention in its normal use but, although it is a matter of legal niceties, it probably does fall into the category of chemical weapons if it is used for this kind of purpose directly against people."
SO IF PEOPLE don’t leave a city, are soldiers responsible for what happens to them? Should soldiers look out for civilians? Should we?
SOME GOOD BACKGROUND [George Monbiot] White phosphorus is not listed in the schedules of the Chemical Weapons Convention. It can be legally used as a flare to illuminate the battlefield, or to produce smoke to hide troop movements from the enemy. Like other unlisted substances, it may be deployed for "Military purposes... not dependent on the use of the toxic properties of chemicals as a method of warfare". But it becomes a chemical weapon as soon as it is used directly against people. A chemical weapon can be "any chemical which through its chemical action on life processes can cause death, temporary incapacitation or permanent harm". . . . Until last week, the US state department maintained that US forces used white phosphorus shells "very sparingly in Fallujah, for illumination purposes". They were fired "to illuminate enemy positions at night, not at enemy fighters". Confronted with the new evidence, on Thursday it changed its position. "We have learned that some of the information we were provided ... is incorrect. White phosphorous shells, which produce smoke, were used in Fallujah not for illumination but for screening purposes, i.e. obscuring troop movements and, according to... Field Artillery magazine, 'as a potent psychological weapon against the insurgents in trench lines and spider holes...' The article states that US forces used white phosphorus rounds to flush out enemy fighters so that they could then be killed with high explosive rounds." The US government, in other words, appears to admit that white phosphorus was used in Falluja as a chemical weapon. The invaders have been forced into a similar climbdown over the use of napalm in Iraq. In December 2004, the Labour MP Alice Mahon asked the British armed forces minister Adam Ingram "whether napalm or a similar substance has been used by the coalition in Iraq (a) during and (b) since the war". "No napalm," the minister replied, "has been used by coalition forces in Iraq either during the war-fighting phase or since. [via LeftI]