Pentagon admits using white phosphorous in Iraq
Nov. 15, 2005. 07:22 PM
WASHINGTON (AP) — Pentagon officials acknowledged Tuesday that U.S. troops used white phosphorous as a weapon against Iraqi insurgents during the battle of Fallujah last November but denied an Italian television report the flammable material was used against civilians.
Lt.-Col. Barry Venable, a Pentagon spokesman, said 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 spokesman referred to an article in the March-April 2005 edition of the U.S. army's Field Artillery magazine, an official publication, in which veterans of the Fallujah fight spelled out their use of white phosphorous and other weapons. The authors used the shorthand WP in referring to white phosphorous.
"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, fire-support teams should have used another type of smoke bomb for screening missions in Fallujah "and saved our WP for lethal missions."
The battle for Fallujah was the most intense and deadly fight of the war, after the fall of Baghdad in April 2003. The city, about 55 kilometres west of Baghdad on the Euphrates River, was a key insurgent stronghold. The authors of the "after action" report said they encountered few civilians in their area of operations.
Italian Communists held a sit-in Monday in front of the U.S. Embassy in Rome to protest against the reported use by U.S. troops of white phosphorous. Italy's RAI24 news television aired a documentary last week alleging the United States used white phosphorous shells in a "massive and indiscriminate way" against civilians during the Fallujah offensive.
The U.S. State Department, in response, initially denied troops had used white phosphorous against enemy forces.
"They were fired into the air to illuminate enemy positions at night, not at enemy fighters."
The department later said its statement had been incorrect.
"There is a great deal of misinformation feeding on itself about U.S. forces allegedly using `outlawed' weapons in Fallujah," the department said.
"The facts are that U.S. forces are not using any illegal weapons in Fallujah or anywhere else in Iraq."
Venable said white phosphorous shells are a standard weapon used by field artillery units and are not banned by any international weapons convention to which the United States is a signatory.
White phosphorous is a colourless-to-yellow translucent wax-like substance with a pungent, garlic-like smell. The form used by the military ignites once it is exposed to oxygen, producing such heat it bursts into a yellow flame and produces a dense white smoke. It can cause painful burns to exposed human flesh.
oh the hypocrisy!