Wednesday, April 22, 2009

British war crimes

White phosphorus weapons have achieved some notoriety since January when Israeli aircraft dropped US-made WP munitions on civilian areas of Gaza - a flagrant war crime. You can see a series of photos concerning the use of WP in Gaza on the Human Rights Watch website, which notes that UNRWA facilities came under direct fire from WP weapons. (Palestinian militants also reportedly fired WP munitions into Israel during the three-week massacre.)

Israel isn't the only US ally to use white phosphorus in the recent past. In its 2007 invasion of Somalia, forces of US proxy Ethiopia used phosphorus weapons in a civilian area, killing 35 civilians. And in the war in Iraq, US forces have used WP and even acknowledged their use as an incendiary weapon in the Battle of Fallujah after evidence to that effect surfaced, contradicting initial US claims.

Concerning the war in Afghanistan, it is known that US aircraft have fired phosphorus rockets in battles against Taliban insurgents (see, for example, this report concerning a 2003 battle in Kandahar province). So too have British aircraft (see this report concerning a 2006 battle in Helmand). However, no doubt owing partly to the controversial legal status of white phosphorus, US and British officials have generally claimed that WP is only used as a smoke screen or for illumination, not as a weapon. (See here for a description of the use of American aircraft-fired WP rockets for this purpose; see here for mention of WP grenades used by British forces for illumination.)

Official claims ring hollow, however, in light of statements from American war resister Chris Teske, who escaped to Canada to avoid the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq:
Teske still struggles to talk about what he says he saw [in Afghanistan]: enemy fighters burned alive by white phosphorus, melting the flesh on their bodies... [The Times (UK), July 28, 2007]
Canadian troops in Afghanistan have worked with American troops utilizing "Willy Pete" for ground cover, though I can find no solid evidence of Canadians using it, save for efforts to stamp out cannabis plants. There is, however, some faint evidence of non-agricultural use. Last October, Canadian military reservist Corporal Paul Demetrick wrote in a letter to the Toronto Star: "we fire white phosphorus shells (a chemical weapon outlawed by the Geneva Conventions due to the horrific way it burns human beings) into vineyards where it was known Afghan insurgents were deployed". Note that Demetrick does not indicate that he has seen their use himself, only that he has heard this. In any case, this would indicate only that Canadian forces are using WP as an incendiary weapon, which they are probably legally allowed to do. I say 'probably' because some experts, including the spokesperson for the organization which monitors the Chemical Weapons Convention, have judged WP weapons to be a species of chemical weapon, which are illegal.

Now, what about the war crimes from this post's title?

Ian Sinclair writing on ZNet has a remarkable quote from British Colonel Richard Kemp, who commanded forces in Afghanistan in 2003. Speaking to the BBC in February concerning Israel's use of WP in Gaza, he says:
"...when, for example, we [the British armed forces] are fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq. Of course we have to use aerial weapons like artillery and White Phosphorus, and we do use those weapons, even in areas that do have a certain amount of civilian population..." (link)
Flatly put, Colonel Kemp's words appear to acknowledge British war crimes. However, we must note that Colonel Kemp (whose name is fittingly similar to 'Colonel Blimp') is not saying that he himself performed these acts in Afghanistan. He may be repeating hearsay for all we know. Plus, Kemp's moronic shilling for the Israeli military on at least one other occasion (Israel is the most moral army that has ever existed, etc.) indicates that he is a shameless propagandist (or has a tenuous hold on reality).

Interestingly, on the same day that Kemp was interviewed by the BBC, the matter of white phosphorus use arose in the House of Commons. In response to questions, Secretary of State for Defense John Hutton explained:
In Afghanistan, white phosphorus munitions are routinely used to protect troops on operations by producing a smoke screen to provide cover. Records show white phosphorus munitions were last used for the same purpose in Iraq in 2005.

In accordance with the UN third convention on conventional weapons, UK training in the use of white phosphorus emphasises that it should be used solely for its intended purpose and not as an anti-personnel weapon. (link)

Earlier use of WP in Afghanistan:
"The journalists were shown both actual examples and photographs of the chemical weapons used by the extremists [i.e. US-supported mujaheddin] in Afghanistan. The overwhelming majority of the mines, grenades and rocket projectiles of white phosphorus bore the markings of the Lake Erie chemical company, and its address Cleveland 14, Ohio, USA." (Tass News Agency, "Use of chemical weapons by Afghan and Soviet forces in Nangarhar denied," from BBC Summary of World Broadcasts December 2, 1988)
Soviet officials claimed that WP had been used on at least 10 occasions by their enemies in Afghanistan, and added that Afghan civilians had been killed in the attacks.


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