A General involved with the U.S. led coalition efforts to fight the Islamic State at its root in the Middle East has confirmed to the media that the coalition has employed white phosphorous in the battle to retake Mosul.
Watchdog groups continue to urge in the aftermath of this revelation for the coalition to back off. The highly controversial substance isn’t banned, but its legality is tied to its usage, in the description of NPR. It’s not allowed to be used as a weapon, while it is allowed to be used for practical purposes.
This week, New Zealand Brig. Gen. Hugh McAslan told NPR: “We have utilized white phosphorous to screen areas within west Mosul to get civilians out safely.”
White phosphorous munitions are used to create a smoke screen for advancing troops, and it’s in this fashion that the substance has been both used in the past by the U.S. and is being used by the U.S. at present.
The issue with the substance is that to employ white phosphorous against civilians is effectively a war crime on account of the severe chemical burns that those affected by the substance experience.
It’s worth noting that while the munitions haven’t been employed with the explicit intent of targeting citizens, and although it seems as though ISIS fighters have been seen as collateral damage in the usage of the substance, ISIS has been using tens of thousands of civilians, in the estimate of the UN, as human shields. Essentially meaning that targeting ISIS means targeting these people.
Amnesty International has slammed the usage of white phosphorous munitions by Western forces in the past. A report produced in the aftermath of the substance being used last year directly asserts that its usage near heavily populated areas “constitutes an indiscriminate attack and can be a war crime.” Mosul is one of the major population centers of Iraq, meaning that what Amnesty International describes as a war crime just happened again.
There have been recent allegations that the substance has been used elsewhere in the Middle East, and in light of Gen. McAslan’s revelation, these allegations are that much more believable.
As of Tuesday, Amnesty International was unable to verify footage disseminated through the official Islamic State news outlet that purportedly shows white phosphorous munitions raining down on Raqqa, Syria. In Raqqa, U.S. led forces are fighting to retake the city from Islamic State control.
Yet again, although it’s certainly unclear if their warnings will be heeded this time anymore than they were previous times, Amnesty International has issued a rousing condemnation of even the potential for the chemical weapon white phosphorous to be used anywhere. The human rights group has urged “U.S.-led forces to refrain from using white phosphorus in Raqqa and its surroundings, where civilians remain trapped.”
The substance remains volatile for some time after its deployment, and it turns what could otherwise be a safe escape route for people living under Islamic State control into a living nightmare of “horrific injuries, burning deep into the muscle and bone.”
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