White phosphorus, a napalm-like chemical that causes severe burns and disfigurements, was used recently by the US in Iraq against enemy combatants near the town of Gwer in Northern Iraq.
The public affairs website DVIDS, which is linked to the Pentagon, posted images which clearly show the US Army firing white phosphorus at a group of Islamic militants in Iraq in close proximity to the town of Gwer. White phosphorus, known for its volatility and the horrific injuries it causes, is banned for use in combat and in civilian areas and failure to comply with the ban is a war crime. Under international law, white phosphorus may only be used to make smoke screens or to give signals in areas where no civilians are present.
However, in the past, the US has admitted to using white phosphorus as a weapon of war despite it being illegal to do so. In 2005, a US Army publication (PDF) stated the following about its actions in Fallujah the year prior: “WP [White Phosphorus] proved to be an effective and versatile munition. We used it […] as a potent psychological weapon against the insurgents.” However, white phosphorus is neither effective nor versatile. When used, it forms a deadly chemical cloud that produces a horrific “skin-eating” sensation that kills everything within a tenth of a mile radius. Its use also explains the grotesque birth defects that appeared following the 2004 battle for Fallujah. The US has also used white phosphorus during its ongoing “presence” in Afghanistan. It became an international issue once again in 2009 when US-led NATO forces burned and disfigured an 8 year-old girl with white phosphorus munitions.
Amid controversy over its latest use of white phosphorus, Air Force Colonel John Dorrian, the spokesman for the US coalition in Iraq, said the images posted online show an operation where US forces supported Kurdish forces with artillery strikes. The operation, known as Evergreen II, aimed to reclaim a bridge in the northern Iraqi town of Gwer from militants. Dorrian claimed that the white phosphorus fired was used to obscure Kurdish forces moving on enemy positions, but he was unable to respond to questions regarding the use of the chemical munitions in or near the town of Gwer or on enemy positions.
It remains unclear exactly how this napalm-like chemical is currently being used by the US military. However, based on the US and NATO’s previous illegal use and on the US Army’s own admission of its use as a weapon of war, white phosphorus will likely continue to be deployed in US combat operations abroad, endangering civilians.
The US has also been quick to supply the chemical weapon to its allies, who also show the same propensity for using the substance illegally. Just recently, the US admitted to supplying Saudi Arabia with white phosphorus, where it has been used in its atrocious war in Yemen. Saudi Arabia has already been accused of numerous war crimes in Yemen, making their use of US-supplied white phosphorus just another example of their egregious disregard for civilian populations. Equally concerning is the US’ continual negligence in adhering to international weapon laws and its ease in avoiding punishment for doing so, even when war crimes are committed. Yet, due to the enormous power of defense and weapon contractors in US politics, change is unlikely as war is part of the US’ status quo.
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