US accused of using ‘illegal’ white phosphorus in chemical attack on Taliban that killed Afghan civilians

By David Gardner
Last updated at 10:47 PM on 10th May 2009

The US faced damning claims tonight that it used white phosphorus bombs in a battle with Taliban fighters that resulted in the death of scores of innocent Afghan civilians.

Doctors in Afghanistan have found horrific burns on victims of the slaughter a week ago they believe could have been caused by the chemical, which bursts into fierce fire on contact with the air and can stick to and even penetrate flesh as it burns.

Although phosphorus can be used legitimately in battle to light up the night sky, it is illegal to use it as a weapon.

A white phosphorus shell fired by the Israeli military explodes over the Gaza strip earlier this year. The chemical ignites on contact with the air, and causes severe burns. The US is accused of using the weapon illegally in Afghanistan

A white phosphorus shell fired by the Israeli military explodes over the Gaza strip earlier this year. The chemical ignites on contact with the air, and causes severe burns. The US is accused of using the weapon illegally in Afghanistan

Rights groups say its use in over-populated areas can indiscriminately burn civilians and so constitutes a war crime.

White phosphorus is used as a marker for  targets and to create smokescreens, and is fired using shells, flares or hand grenades.

As many as 147 civilians were said to have died from American bombs dropped in the Farah district of Afghanistan during last week’s battle, although the Pentagon insists the death toll has been exaggerated.

Tonight the US military denied using phosphorus, saying if it had been used, the Taliban were to blame.

Nader Nadery, of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, said: ‘Our teams have met with patients. They are investigating the cause of the injuries and the use of white phosphorus.’

Haji Barkat Ullah speaks with his daughter Frishta, aged seven, who was wounded in a coalition air strike in Afghanistan last week

Haji Barkat Ullah speaks with his daughter Frishta, aged seven, who was wounded in a coalition air strike in Afghanistan last week

Dr Mohammad Aref Jalali, head of the burns unit at the Heart Regional Hospital in western Afghanistan, where some of the victims were treated, said: ‘I think it’s the result of a chemical used in a bomb. But if it was the result of a burning house, that kind of burn would look different.’

United Nations investigators have also seen ‘extensive’ burn wounds on victims and have raised questions over how the injuries were caused.

The US used white phosphorus in the battle of Fallujah in Iraq in 2004 and Israel’s military used it in January against Hamas in Gaza.

Marc Garlasco, senior military analyst at Human Rights Watch and a former senior Pentagon intelligence analyst, said there has been widespread and regular use of white phosphorus by US and NATO forces in Afghanistan.  It was unlikely the Taliban would use it.

Aziz Rahman, the father of eight-year-old Razia who medics say was badly burned by white phosphorus when the chemical hit her house in Afghanistan. She has been treated in a US military hospital

Aziz Rahman, the father of eight-year-old Razia who medics say was badly burned by white phosphorus when the chemical hit her house in Afghanistan. She has been treated in a US military hospital

The use of the chemical for illumination and concealment of troop movements suits foreign forces in a hostile environment, but it is of little use to insurgents who know the terrain and can blend into the civilian population, he said.

‘They want high explosive to shock and kill. Flames raining down from the sky aren’t going to frighten the U.S. forces.’

Zaher Murad, an Afghan Defence Ministry spokesman, said the government was not aware of insurgents using white phosphorus in any attacks.

The Taliban also said they had not used  it.

‘This is not true, it is just a mere US allegation,’ spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said.

The New York-based Human Rights Watch appealed for NATO officials to release the results of an inquiry into a separate March 14 incident when an eight-year-old Afghan girl was burned by white phosphorus in the Kapisa province.

The chemical row blew up as General David Petraeus, chief of the US Central Command in the region, claimed al Qaeda has been beaten back and is no longer operating in Afghanistan.

Thousands of people flee fighting between government forces and Taliban insurgents in Pakistan's Swat valley

Thousands of people flee fighting between government forces and Taliban insurgents in Pakistan’s Swat valley

Speaking on TV in the US, he said al Qaeda still has affiliated groups with ‘enclaves and sanctuaries’ in the country.

He said the terrorists had also suffered ‘very significant losses’ in its hideouts in the rugged, mountainous borders as a result of new Pakistani offensives to roots out Islamic militants.

But the Americans admit they still don’t know what has become of terror leader Osama bin Laden.

President Obama’s national security advisor, Retired Marine General James Jones, said intelligence agencies are on constant alert for signs of bin Laden, but added: ‘The truth is, I don’t think anybody knows.’

Meanwhile, the violence continued in Afghanistan today, with a double suicide bomb attack killing up to 20 police officers and soldiers.

The first suicide bomber detonated his explosives in Gereshk, one of the nation’s most trouble-hit areas. Then, as emergency services rushed to help the victims, a second bomber blew himself up, causing the majority of the casualties.
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/worldnews/article-1180171/US-accused-using-illegal-white-phosphorus-chemical-attack-Taliban-killed-Afghan-civilians.html

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