Sunday, May 10, 2009

A US war crime?

The US is accused of using white phosphorus weapons against civilians in the recent bombings in Farah:

Phosphorus claim after fatal air strikes in Afghanistan
Jon Boone - The Guardian

KABUL, May 10 - Afghanistan's leading human rights organisation is investigating claims that white phosphorus was used during a deadly battle between US forces and the Taliban last week in which scores of civilians may have died.

Nader Nadery, a senior officer at the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, said the organisation was concerned that the chemical, which can cause severe burns, might have been used in the firefight in Bala Baluk, a district in the western province of Farah.

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 power that caught fire and then set people's clothes alight."

US forces in Afghanistan denied they had used the chemical, and have also said claims that up to 147 civilians were killed were grossly exaggerated...

But members of the human rights department at the UN mission in Afghanistan have been appalled by witness testimony from people in the village, according to one official in Kabul who talked anonymously to the Guardian.

He said bombs were dropped after militants had quit the battlefield, which appeared to be backed up by the US air force's own daily report, which is published online.

"The stories that are emerging are quite frankly horrifying," the official said. "It is quite apparent that the large bulk of civilian casualties were called in after the initial fighting had subsided and both the troops and the Taliban had withdrawn.

"Local villagers went to the mosque to pray for peace. Shortly after evening prayers the air strikes were called in, and they continued for a couple of hours whilst the villagers were frantically calling the local governor to get him to call off the air strikes."

He said that women and children hid inside their homes while their men went on to the roofs with guns. US forces say these men were militants, but the UN official said they were simply villagers and "it is totally normal for them to have guns"... (link)
Here's the American military's daily report on the Farah incident which appears to support the claims of the villagers and which contradicts statements of US military officials:
In Afghanistan, Navy F/A-18F Super Hornets and an Air Force B-1B Lancer were called to carry out air strikes during an engagement between anti-Afghan gunmen and Afghan National Police. The jets hit several enemy fighting positions and a compound in which enemy personnel had gathered after the fight. (link)
More from Reuters:
[Nader Nadery] said the rights commission was alerted to the possibility that white phosphorus munitions may have caused the burns in Farah by a Reuters report last week of a young girl burned by the chemical in another part of the country, the first known account of a casualty from white phosphorus in Afghanistan.

U.S. military doctors who treated that girl had confirmed she was struck by white phosphorus in Kapisa province. The military said it believed none of its shells had struck her house and a Taliban mortar may have been to blame, but rights groups called for the military to reveal more details of its investigation.

Since Reuters disclosed the Kapisa case, the military has released accounts of four incidents it says show that the Taliban use white phosphorus in Afghanistan... (link)

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