/May 10, 2009
nUnited States forces in Afghanistan are accused of illegally deploying white phosphorus against civilians following a firefight with Taliban militants, according to published reports.
White phosphorus is legal to use on a battlefield but illegal to deploy for any reason other than illumination. The chemical ignites on contact with the air. Human rights groups said using the substance in populated, civilian areas is a war crime, but the United States is not a signatory to any treaty which entirely bans its use.
“The American military denied using the incendiary in the battle in Farah province — which President Hamid Karzai has said killed 125 to 130 civilians — but left open the possibility that Taliban militants did,” reported the Associated Press. “The U.S. says Taliban fighters have used white phosphorus, a spontaneously flammable material that leaves severe chemical burns on flesh, at least four times the last two years.”
“Marc Garlasco, senior military analyst at Human Rights Watch and a former senior Pentagon intelligence analyst, said there has been widespread and regular use of white phosphorus by US and NATO forces in Afghanistan,” reported the Mail Online. “It was unlikely the Taliban would use it.”
“The use of the chemical for illumination and concealment of troop movements suits foreign forces in a hostile environment, but it is of little use to insurgents who know the terrain and can blend into the civilian population, he said. “‘They want high explosive to shock and kill. Flames raining down from the sky aren’t going to frighten the U.S. forces.’”
“Dr Mohammad Aref Jalali, the head of an internationally funded burns hospital in Herat, said villagers taken to hospital after the incident had ‘highly unusual burns’ on their hands and feet that he had not seen before,” reported The Guardian. “We cannot be 100% sure what type of chemical it was and we do not have the equipment here to find out. One of the women who came here told us that 22 members of her family were totally burned. She said a bomb distributed white power that caught fire and then set people’s clothes alight.”
“The stories that are emerging are quite frankly horrifying,” a United Nations official told the Guardian. “It is quite apparent that the large bulk of civilian casualties were called in after the initial fighting had subsided and both the troops and the Taliban had withdrawn.
“Local villagers went to the mosque to pray for peace. Shortly after evening prayers the air strikes were called in, and they continued for a couple of hours whilst the villagers were frantically calling the local governor to get him to call off the air strikes.”
U.S. General James L. Jones told ABC’s “This Week” that he refused to “tie the hands of our commanders and say we’re not going to conduct airstrikes.”h