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Did US Forces Use White Phosphorus in the Afghan Bombings?

Posted by Siun on May 11th, 2009

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The news about the US bombings of two villages in Farah, Afghanistan keeps getting worse.

Yesterday, new questions about the bombing were raised by physicians treating victims from the attacks. The doctors report that 14 of the wounded have “unusual burns:”

Dr Mohammad Aref Jalali, the head of an internationally funded burns hospital in Herat, said villagers taken to hospital after the incident had “highly unusual burns” on their hands and feet that he had not seen before. “We cannot be 100% sure what type of chemical it was and we do not have the equipment here to find out. One of the women who came here told us that 22 members of her family were totally burned. She said a bomb distributed white pow[d]er that caught fire and then set people’s clothes alight.”

Pentagon spokesman Col. Greg Julian responded by saying that they had not used white phosphorus. Responding to a DOD claim that the wounds “could have resulted from hand grenades or exploding propane tanks,” Dr Jalali noted:

“I think it’s the result of a chemical used in a bomb, but I’m not sure what kind of chemical. But if it was a result of a burning house – from petrol or gas cylinders – that kind of burn would look different,” he said.

And

Gul Ahmad Ayubi, the deputy head of Farah’s health department, said the province’s main hospital had received 14 patients after the battle, all with burn wounds:”

“There has been other airstrikes in Farah in the past. We had injuries from those battles, but this is the first time we have seen such burns on the bodies. I’m not sure what kind of bomb it was,” he said.

The question of US chemical use won’t go away since both the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission and the UN are asking about the injuries they have seen during their investigations of the bombing:

Nader Nadery, a commissioner for the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, said officials were concerned white phosphorus may have been used, but he said more investigation was needed.

“Our teams have met with patients,” Nadery told The Associated Press. “They are investigating the cause of the injuries and the use of white phosphorus.”

(snip)

U.N. human rights investigators have also seen “extensive” burn wounds on victims and have raised questions about how the injuries were caused, said a U.N. official who asked not to be identified talking about internal deliberations. The U.N. has reached no conclusions about whether any chemical weapons may have been used, the official said.

Adding to skepticism about the Pentagon’s denials is the demand made last week by Human Rights Watch that “NATO Should ‘Come Clean’ on White Phosphorus” based on reports from an earlier incidents profiled last week by ABC News in which a girl of 8 was horrifically burned (and two of her siblings were killed). According to HRW:

NATO forces in Afghanistan should immediately release the results of their investigation into a March 14, 2009, incident in which an 8-year-old girl in Kapisa province was burned by white phosphorus munitions, Human Rights Watch said today.

The girl’s family brought her to the US military base in Bagram on March 14 for medical treatment for severe burns. US military doctors say they found white phosphorus on her face and neck. The incident took place in Alahsay district in eastern Kapisa Province, where there had been a series of fierce firefights in March involving NATO forces and insurgent groups.

NATO officials have said that according to their records, no rounds were found to have landed near the house, though have not denied using white phosphorus during this engagement. They have suggested that the Taliban may have fired the rounds, but have not provided any evidence for their claim. Today the International Security Assistance Force released information on four isolated incidents dated between December 2007 and May 2009 where they say insurgents used white phosphorus munitions.
(snip)

“NATO has not denied using white phosphorus during the Kapisa incident, nor have they provided evidence that the insurgents fired these rounds,” said Garlasco. “NATO and US forces need to reassure the people of Afghanistan, already alarmed by high civilian casualties, that these munitions are not being used unlawfully.”

While NATO has claimed to HRW that “We do not target personnel with white phosphorus, which is a conventional weapon in the arsenals of many nations, generally used for screening, marking, and illumination” evidence from Iraq, where its use to target “insurgents” in Fallujah was admitted, suggests otherwise.

In the midst of this controversy, White House National Security Advisor James Jones made it clear that the air strikes will continue, saying President Karzai who has called for an end to all air strikes will understand “that we have to have the full complement of our offensive military power when we need it. . . . We can’t fight with one hand tied behind our back.”

Afghan students did not agree:

Chanting “Death to America”, “Death to the biggest terrorist” and “long live Islam”, more than a 1,000 of students marched outside the university to condemn the recent US-led air strikes in Farah province, that is believed to be the deadliest incident since the beginning of the war on terror in 2001.

The students were carrying banners, written “The blood of Farah martyrs will never dry”.

Students demanded the trial of elements behind the last week’s air raid in the southwestern Farah province.

The leaders of the students made up a statement criticizing the non-combatants’ deaths in both military and the Taliban attacks.

“Our people are fed up with Taliban beheadings and suicide bombings.

On the other hand, the massacre of civilians by the American forces is a crime that our people will never forget,” the statement noted.

With General Petraeus telling Fox News on Sunday that there is no more Al Quaeda in Afghanistan – the claimed rationale for our war there – could someone please explain what we think we are doing in Afghanistan?

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