Pentagon Used White Phosphorous in Iraq
By ROBERT BURNS
The Associated Press
Tuesday, November 15, 2005; 9:51 PM
WASHINGTON -- Pentagon officials acknowledged Tuesday that U.S. troops used
white phosphorous as a weapon against insurgent strongholds during the
battle of Fallujah last November. But they denied an Italian television news
report that the spontaneously flammable material was used against civilians.
Lt. Col. Barry Venable, a Pentagon spokesman, said that while white
phosphorous is most frequently used to mark targets or obscure a position,
it was used at times in Fallujah as an incendiary weapon against enemy
"It was not used against civilians," Venable said.
The spokesman referred reporters to an article in the March-April 2005
edition of the Army's Field Artillery magazine, an official publication, in
which veterans of the Fallujah fight spelled out their use of white
phosphorous and other weapons. The authors used the shorthand "WP" in
referring to white phosphorous.
"WP proved to be an effective and versatile munition," the authors wrote.
"We used it for screening missions at two breeches and, later in the fight,
as a potent psychological weapon against the insurgents in trench lines and
spider holes when we could not get effects on them with HE (high explosive)"
"We fired `shake and bake' missions at the insurgents, using WP to flush
them out and HE to take them out."
The authors added, in citing lessons for future urban battles, that
fire-support teams should have used another type of smoke bomb for screening
missions in Fallujah "and saved our WP for lethal missions."
The battle for Fallujah was the most intense and deadly fight of the war,
after the fall of Baghdad in April 2003. The city, about 35 miles west of
Baghdad on the Euphrates River, was a key insurgent stronghold. The authors
of the "after action" report said they encountered few civilians in their
area of operations.
Italian communists held a sit-in Monday in front of the U.S. Embassy in Rome
to protest the reported use by American troops of white phosphorous. Italy's
state-run RAI24 news television aired a documentary last week alleging the
U.S. used white phosphorous shells in a "massive and indiscriminate way"
against civilians during the Fallujah offensive.
The State Department, in response, initially denied that U.S. troops had
used white phosphorous against enemy forces. "They were fired into the air
to illuminate enemy positions at night, not at enemy fighters."
The department later said its statement had been incorrect.
"There is a great deal of misinformation feeding on itself about U.S. forces
allegedly using `outlawed' weapons in Fallujah," the department said. "The
facts are that U.S. forces are not using any illegal weapons in Fallujah or
anywhere else in Iraq."
Venable said white phosphorous shells are a standard weapon used by field
artillery units and are not banned by any international weapons convention
to which the U.S. is a signatory.
White phosphorous is a colorless-to-yellow translucent wax-like substance
with a pungent, garlic-like smell. The form used by the military ignites
once it is exposed to oxygen, producing such heat that it bursts into a
yellow flame and produces a dense white smoke. It can cause painful burn
injuries to exposed human flesh.