Tuesday, November 6, 2018

White Phosphorus - America's Weapon of Choice?

Since the beginning of the Syrian civil war in 2011, Washington has made it its aim to vilify the Assad government by repeatedly informing the world that the pro-regime side in this conflict has used chemical weapons against its own civilian population.  Recent news from Syria would suggest that the United States has behaved in a manner that flaunts international conventions with the use of certain banned weapons.

According to the Syrian Arab News Agency or SANA, we find this recent news:

While you might say or think that this is just pro-Assad propaganda, in fact, it is little different than the American allegations that the Assad government is using chemical weapons.

This news was followed by this update in which Russia has requested an investigation into the use of internationally banned weapons:

According to Protocol III of the Convention on the Prohibition or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons Which May be Deemed to be Excessively Injurious or That Have Indiscriminate Effects better known as the Convention on Certain Weapons (CCW), the use of white phosphorus is banned as part of the ban on incendiary weapons against either permanent or temporary civilian population concentrations: 

Incendiary weapons are defined as any weapon or munition which is primarily designed to set fire to objects or to cause burn injuries to persons.

There are 125 high contracting parties to the entire Convention on Certain Weapons with an additional four signatories.  The aforementioned Protocol III has 115 high contracting parties with the following nations that are part of the 125 high contracting parties not contracting under Protocol III:

Burundi, Cameroon, Cote D'Ivoire, Dominican Republic, Israel, Monaco, Morocco, the Republic of Korea, Turkey and Turkmenistan

According to the Federation of American Scientists Fact Sheet on white phosphorus, we find the following:

Not only do U.S. forces use white phosphorus, according to research by several human rights organizations, Israel (a non-signatory to Protocol III) appears to have used white phosphorus in Operation Cast Lead against densely populated regions of Gaza between December 2008 and January 2009.  Here is a quote on the issue from a report by Human Rights Watch on Israel's use of white phosphorus:

"The unlawful use of white phosphorus was neither incidental nor accidental.  It was repeated over time and in different locations, with the IDF "air-bursting" the munition in populated areas up to the last days of its military operation.  Even if intended as an obscurant rather than as a weapon, the IDF's repeated firing of air-burst white phosphorus shells from 155mm artillery into densely populated areas was indiscriminate and indicates the commission of war crimes.

The dangers posed by white phosphorus to civilians were well-known to Israeli commanders, who have used the munition for many years.  According to a medical report prepared during the hostilities by the ministry of health, "[w]hite phosphorus can cause serious injury and death when it comes into contact with the skin, is inhaled or is swallowed." The report states that burns on less than 10 percent of the body can be fatal because of damage to the liver, kidneys and heart.

When it wanted an obscurant for its forces, the IDF had a readily available and non-lethal alternative to white phosphorus-smoke shells produced by an Israeli company.  The IDF could have used those shells to the same effect and dramatically reduced the harm to civilians.

Using white phosphorus in densely populated areas as a weapon is even more problematic. Human Rights Watch found no evidence that Israeli forces fired ground-burst white phosphorous at hardened military targets, such as Palestinian fighters in bunkers, but it may have air-burst white phosphorous for its incendiary effect.  Fired from artillery and air-burst to maximize the area of impact, white phosphorous munitions will not have the same lethal effect as high-explosive shells, but will be just as indiscriminate."

Here are two annotated photographs from Forensic Architecture showing the use of white phosphorus by IDF forces in late 2008/early 2009:

White phosphorus burns can result in death even with minimal burn areas since the burns are very deep since white phosphorus can burn without the presence of oxygen as shown on this photograph from Lancet:

Here is a video showing the damage that can be done by a white phosphorus munition as used in the Gaza conflict:

Inhalation of smoke created by white phosphorus can also result in death.  White phosphorus itself is highly dangerous with the Centers for Disease having an extensive protocol for dealing with this toxic substance that you can find here.

Let's close with this video which allegedly shows the use of white phosphorus munitions in civilian regions of Raqaa City in Syria in June 2017:

According to a local monitoring group, the June 2017 U.S. strikes resulted in the deaths of at least 14 civilians.

Given that the United States-led coalition admitted to using white phosphorus projectiles in its June 2017 operations against ISIS in the Iraqi city of Mosul as a means to created a smokescreen to help civilians escape from parts of the city under the control of ISIS and to force Islamic State warriors out as seen on this video:

... it would not be terribly surprising to find that the United States has, once again, unleashed a lethal and banned weapon as part of its futile efforts to rid Syria of Bashar al Assad.  The use of fire and brimstone by U.S. forces is almost biblical.

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