[News] The U.S. is Using White Phosphorous in Afghanistan

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Mon May 18 11:11:47 EDT 2009


May 18, 2009

Caught in a Lie

The U.S. is Using White Phosphorous in Afghanistan


When doctors started reporting that some of the 
victims of the US bombing of several villages in 
Farah Province last week­an attack that left 
between 117 and 147 civilians dead, most of them 
women and children­were turning up with deep, 
sharp burns on their body that “looked like” 
they’d been caused by white phosphorus, the US 
military was quick to deny responsibility.

US officials­who initially denied that the US had 
even bombed any civilians in Farah despite 
overwhelming evidence to the contrary, including 
massive craters where houses had once 
stood­insisted that “no white phosphorus” was 
used in the attacks on several villages in Farah.

Official military policy on the use of white 
phosphorus is to only use the high-intensity, 
self-igniting material as a smoke screen during 
battles or to illuminate targets, not as a weapon 
against human beings­even enemy troops.

Now that policy, and the military’s blanket 
denial that phosphorus was used in Farah, have to 
be questioned, thanks to a recent report filed 
from a remote area of Afghanistan by a New York Times reporter.

C.J. Chivers, writing in the May 14 edition of 
the NY Times, in an article headlined “Korangal 
Valley Memo: In Bleak Afghan Outpost, Troops Slog 
On,” wrote of how an embattled US Army unit in 
the Korangal Valley of Afghanistan, had come 
under attack following a morning memorial service 
for one of their members, Pfc. Richard Dewater, 
who had been killed the day before by a mine.

Chivers wrote:

After the ceremony, the violence resumed. The 
soldiers detected a Taliban spotter on a ridge, 
which was pounded by mortars and then white 
phosphorus rounds from a 155 millimeter howitzer.

What did the insurgents do? When the smoldering 
subsided, they attacked from exactly the same 
spot, shelling the outpost with 30-millimeter 
grenades and putting the soldiers on notice that 
the last display of firepower had little effect. 
The Americans escalated. An A-10 aircraft made 
several gun runs, then dropped a 500-pound bomb.

It is clear from this passage that the military’s 
use of the phosphorus shells had not been for the 
officially sanctioned purpose of providing cover. 
The soldiers had no intention of climbing that 
hill to attack the spotter on the ridge 
themselves. They were trying to destroy him with 
shells and bombs. In fact, the last thing they 
would have wanted to do was provide the spotter 
with a smoke cover, which would have helped him 
escape, and which also would have hidden him from 
the planes which had been called in to make gun 
runs at his position.  Nor was this a case of 
illuminating the target. The incident, as Chivers 
reports, took place in daylight.

Clearly then, this article shows that it is 
routine for soldiers to call in phosphorus rounds 
to attack enemy soldiers, which is supposed to be 
against US military policy for this material. 
Whoever was manning the howitzer had a stock of 
the weapons on hand, and was ready to fire them.

The US initially flatly denied using white 
phosphorus weapons in Iraq, when reports first 
began to come out, including from US troops 
themselves, that they had been used extensively 
against insurgents defending the city of Fallujah 
against US Marines in November 2004. Under 
mounting pressure, the Pentagon first admitted 
that it had used the chemical in Fallujah but 
only “for illumination.”  Later, the Pentagon 
added that it had used phosphorus as a “screen” 
to hide troops. But finally, in 2005, the 
Pentagon was forced to admit that it had also 
used white phosphorus directly as a weapon 
against enemy Iraqi troops in the assault on 
Fallujah, a city of 300,000 that still held many civilians.

The same pattern of denial and eventual admission 
regarding the use of this controversial and 
deadly weapon by US forces now seems to be repeating itself in Afghanistan.

It is odd that given the controversy over the use 
of white phosphorus weapons, which result in 
terrible wounds and eventual death as phosphorus 
particles burn their way down through flesh to 
the bone and sometimes straight onward through a 
body, leaving a charred channel of destruction, 
the New York Times’ Chivers­or perhaps his 
editors back in New York?­ignored any mention of 
the issue while reporting on the use of the 
chemical rounds to attack a lone spotter on the ridge.

Given the current controversy over whether the US 
used white phosphorus shells or bombs in Falah 
Province only days before, it is hard to 
understand why the issue wasn’t mentioned in this 
particular article. Indeed, in the online version 
of the story, the word phosphorus is set as a 
hotlink to an article on the controversy over the 
battlefield use of phosphorus, indicating that at 
least someone at the Times has integrity and a good news sense.

As for the US government and the Pentagon, it is 
clear that they know the weapon is a vicious and 
controversial one, and that besides causing 
horrific and painful wounds, it is profoundly 
dangerous for innocent civilians, particularly 
when used in town or village settings.

It is bad enough that the US is using this 
weapon. It is even worse that it is forced to lie about it.

Surely if the goal of US policy is to win the 
hearts and minds of Afghanistan’s people, it 
shouldn’t be using a weapon that causes such 
terrible and indiscriminate wounds.  Then again, 
maybe winning those hearts and minds isn’t the 
goal. Maybe, as in the so-called “Pacification 
Program” applied by US forces in rural South 
Vietnam, the goal is to terrorize Afghan 
villagers in Taliban regions into rejecting the Taliban in their midst.

Requests for answers from the press office at the 
Pentagon, and at military headquarters in 
Afghanistan regarding US policy on the use of 
white phosphorus, and on the specific use of the 
shells mentioned in the New York Times article were ignored.

Dave Lindorff is a Philadelphia-based journalist 
and columnist. His latest book is 
Case for Impeachment” (St. Martin’s Press, 2006 
and now available in paperback). He can be 
reached at <mailto:dlindorff at mindspring.com>dlindorff at mindspring.com

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