Wednesday, November 16, 2005
"It was used as an incendiary weapon against enemy combatants," spokesman Lt Col Barry Venable told the BBC - though not against civilians, he said.
The US had earlier said the substance - which can cause burning of the flesh - had been used only for illumination.
BBC defence correspondent Paul Wood says having to retract its denial is a public relations disaster for the US.
Col Venable denied that white phosphorous constituted a banned chemical weapon.
Washington is not a signatory to an international treaty restricting the use of the substance against civilians.
The US state department had earlier said white phosphorus had been used in Falluja very sparingly, for illumination purposes.
Col Venable said that statement was based on "poor information".
The US-led assault on Falluja - a stronghold of the Sunni insurgency west of Baghdad - displaced most of the city's 300,000 population and left many of its buildings destroyed.
Col Venable told the BBC's PM radio programme that the US army used white phosphorus incendiary munitions "primarily as obscurants, for smokescreens or target marking in some cases.
"However it is an incendiary weapon and may be used against enemy combatants."
And he said it had been used in Falluja, but it was a "conventional munition", not a chemical weapon.
It is not "outlawed or illegal", Col Venable said.
He said US forces could use white phosphorus rounds to flush enemy troops out of covered positions.
"The combined effects of the fire and smoke - and in some case the terror brought about by the explosion on the ground - will drive them out of the holes so that you can kill them with high explosives," he said.
San Diego journalist Darrin Mortenson, who was embedded with US marines during the assault on Falluja, told the BBC's Today radio programme he had seen white phosphorous used "as an incendiary weapon" against insurgents.
However, he "never saw anybody intentionally use any weapon against civilians", he said.
White phosphorus is highly flammable and ignites on contact with oxygen. If the substance hits someone's body, it will burn until deprived of oxygen.
Globalsecurity.org, a defence website, says: "Phosphorus burns on the skin are deep and painful... These weapons are particularly nasty because white phosphorus continues to burn until it disappears... it could burn right down to the bone."
A spokesman at the UK Ministry of Defence said the use of white phosphorus was permitted in battle in cases where there were no civilians near the target area.
But Professor Paul Rodgers, of the University of Bradford's department of peace studies, said white phosphorus could be considered a chemical weapon if deliberately aimed at civilians.
He told PM: "It is not counted under the chemical weapons convention in its normal use but, although it is a matter of legal niceties, it probably does fall into the category of chemical weapons if it is used for this kind of purpose directly against people."When an Italian TV documentary revealing the use of white phosphorus in Iraq was broadcast on 8 November it sparked fury among Italian anti-war protesters, who demonstrated outside the US embassy in Rome.
Of course any deliberate engagement or targeting of civilians is
already a war crime. so that the US has not signed this one is not of especial import except to say that we aren't bound by it expressly.
White Phosphorus is not banned.
It also isn't a chemical weapon. We are signtory to the Chemical Weapons Convention which defines chemical weapons. See here:
So it isn't a chemical weapon and it isn't banned.
Indiscriminate use is. The stories circulating do not support that
contention. See here:
Bogert received the coordinates for the targets and recorded them on a map. This is proper procedure. He's receiving coordinates from a Forward Observer, indirect fire weapons never see their targets, the FOs do. The coordinates are plotted so that it is known what was ordered where. There is also a verification that takes place in the call for indirect fire to avoid problems with numerical transposition or other mistakes.
Any way you slice it, if it isn’t banned and it isn’t a chemical weapon then why did the government try to hide it? They knew they used WP as a chemical weapon against an entire city, civilians included. This is War Crime behavior.