Are U.S. Troops Using Banned White Phosphorus? It's Just A Tiny War Crime.
'It's like fireflies...It's like the Fourth of July' -- Laurie Anderson
In your "Oh yes, we're still at war" news, American troops and/or members of the coalition fighting the Islamic State might be using white phosphorus artillery shells in urban fighting in Iraq and Syria. While white phosphorus, which ignites with contact with air and can burn human flesh down to the bone, isn't completely banned for military use, its deployment in populated areas is illegal under international law. Which we allegedly still follow, even if the president thinks that's weak. Not to worry, say military spokespeople -- if they are using it, which they won't confirm or deny, they're being very careful with the stuff, so don't worry about any civilians trapped in the combat zones, OK? The were told to keep their heads down.
Maybe we were fresh out of napalm.
The New York Times explains the international rules for how white phosphorus can and can't be used:
It is not illegal under international law for militaries to possess and use white phosphorus, and the United States’ and other Western militaries say they use it mainly to create smoke screens to hide troop movements. But it can also be used as an incendiary weapon, setting very hot fires. And like thermite and napalm, it is proscribed in civilian areas by international law.
Well, then, surely we're being very careful to only use it correctly, right?
The spokesman for the American-led task force that is fighting the militants, Col. Ryan Dillon, said that as a matter of policy he could not discuss the use of specific munitions. But he added that “in accordance with the law of armed conflict, white phosphorus rounds are used for screening, obscuring and marking in a way that fully considers the possible incidental effects on civilians and civilian structures.”
Gosh, that's reassuring. Not a denial, but a promise that we're fully considering the effects. So don't be too worried that video released by ISIS's Aamaq news agency -- which, yes, is very much a propaganda arm of the terrorist group -- appears to show air bursts of white phosphorus in Raqqa, Syria, where thousands of civilians are still trapped as U.S.- supported Syrian and Kurdish fighters attempt to drive ISIS from the city, the pretend capital of IS's pretend caliphate:
the signature spread of airburst white phosphorus munitions — probably M825 series 155mm artillery rounds — exploding over eastern Raqqa, the same area where U.S.-backed Syrian fighters made advances earlier this week.
According to Mary Wareham of Human Rights Watch, U.S.-supported Iraqi forces have also used white phosphorus in the battle to clear the last IS resistance out of Mosul, but at least in Mosul, the rounds were targeted so they exploded near the ground in "an attempt to minimize the footprint of the effects.” IS forces only control a small part of Mosul now, but the area is "packed with tens of thousands of civilians," whose safety we're presumably advising the Iraqi army and militia to "fully consider" some more. The Iraqi forces claim they're using the white phosphorus rounds in Mosul to provide cover for civilians to escape. Wareham said it's still unclear whether civilians actually remain in the area where the shells have been used in Mosul, which would determine whether the use of white phosphorus was lawful. You might also wonder if there are other ways to make smoke that don't run the risk of setting buildings and people ablaze, but come on, this is war, and Donald Trump has already said we don't need rules for war.
The footage from Raqqa, while still not verified by rights groups, appears to show white phosphorus shells exploding much higher off the ground, over buildings -- and again, no telling whether the neighborhoods are occupied. To make matters worse, Raqqa residents have received conflicting warnings from the fighters trying to take the city -- before the fighters invaded, civilians were urged to evacuate, but once the operation began, a new warning told them to take cover away from IS positions. But many civilians continued to try to leave the city even once the fighting began.
Should the U.S. or its surrogates be using white phosphorus at all, given that its use against inhabited areas is banned and all? Don't ask the Commander in Chief. He doesn't believe in being all politically correct, and if some civilians burn to death, that's a bummer, but ISIS started it, so he's OK with some brutality back at them, or people in their general vicinity. He's handed off the decision-making to the generals anyway, even though he knows more than them, so let's not get too worried about who's underneath all that white-hot burning stuff. Only bad guys, probably. The films will make great after-dinner entertainment.
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