Pentagon acknowledges uses incendiary white phosphorus
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US defends use of white phosphorus weapons in Iraq
16 Nov 2005 18:41:12 GMT
By Will Dunham
WASHINGTON, Nov 16 (Reuters) - The Pentagon on Wednesday acknowledged using incendiary white-phosphorus munitions in a 2004 counterinsurgency offensive in the Iraqi city of Falluja, but defended their use as legal.
Army Lt. Col. Barry Venable, a Pentagon spokesman, said the U.S. military had not used the highly flammable weapons against civilians, contrary to an Italian state television report this month which said the weapons were used against men, women and children in Falluja who were burned to the bone.
"We categorically deny that claim," Venable said.
"It's part of our conventional-weapons inventory and we use it like we use any other conventional weapon," added Bryan Whitman, another Pentagon spokesman.
Venable said white phosphorus is not outlawed or banned by any convention. However, a protocol to the 1980 Convention on Conventional Weapons forbids using incendiary weapons against civilians or against military targets amid concentrations of civilians.
The United States did not sign the protocol.
White phosphorus munitions are primarily used by the U.S. military to make smoke screens and mark targets, but also as an incendiary weapon, the Pentagon said. They are not considered chemical weapons. The substance ignites easily in air at temperatures of about 86 F (30 C), and its fire can be difficult to extinguish.
U.S. forces used the white phosphorus during a major offensive launched by Marines in Falluja, about 30 miles (50 km) west of Baghdad, to flush out insurgents. The battle in November of last year involved some of the toughest urban fighting of the 2-1/2-year war.
Venable said that in the Falluja battle, "U.S. forces used white phosphorous both in its classic screening mechanism and ... when they encountered insurgents who were in foxholes and other covered positions who they could not dislodge any other way."
He said the soldiers employed what they call a "shake-and-bake" technique of using white phosphorus shells to flush enemies out of hiding then using high explosives to kill them.
The Italian documentary showed images of bodies recovered after the Falluja offensive, which it said proved the use of white phosphorus against civilians.
"We don't target any civilians with any of our weapons. And to suggest that U.S. forces were targeting civilians with these weapons would simply be wrong," Whitman said.