Rights group in Afghanistan investigating claim of US use of phosphorus bombs

Monday, May 11, 2009

Map highlighting Farah Province within Afghanistan.
Image: Golbez.

The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission is investigating claims that the United States used white phosphorus bombs in an attack against Taliban militants on May 4. The attack is reported to have killed over 100 civilians.

The claim that the US used phosphorus bombs come from a doctor at a burn hospital in Herat that treated victims of the attack. Dr. Mohammad Aref Jalali says that many of the injured people from the Bala Baluk village in Farah Province, had "unusual" burns on their bodies.

"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 powder that caught fire and then set people's clothes alight," said Jalali. His claims prompted the rights group to launch an investigation.

U.S. officials denied having used any chemical weapons and also deny the reports that 147 civilians had been killed in the raid. General James L. Jones, a U.S. security adviser for the military in Afghanistan apologized for the loss of civilians, but also said that the Taliban is using them as "human shields." The U.S. also said that the Taliban had, in the past, used or possessed white phosphorus in at least 44 previous incidents. At least 11 of the incidents involved the use of white phosphorus shells.

"The insurgents possess and use white phosphorus as a weapon against people. It's a law of war that we adhere to but the insurgents blatantly violate," said Colonel Greg Julian, a spokesman for the U.S. military in Afghanistan. The U.S. military admits they use white phosphorus for illumination and smokescreens, but not as a weapon.

Afghanistan's president, Hamid Karzai criticized last weeks attack saying the U.S. is losing the "moral" battle with Afghanistan in terms of civilian deaths. The U.S. military said it would work to correct any errors they make when fighting with Taliban militants.

"We’re going to take a look at trying to make sure we correct those things we can correct, but certainly to tie the hands of our commanders and say we’re not going to conduct airstrikes would be imprudent," Jones said in an interview with ABC News, as quoted by the New York Times.

The reports of the possible use of phosphorus bombs comes just months after Israel confirmed they used at least 20 white phosphorus bombs inside civilian areas during the IDF's offensive in the Gaza Strip in December of 2008 through January of this year. It is reported that the bombs were 155mm, M825E1 which were made in the U.S.. Nearly 1,300 Palestinians, the majority being civilians, died and nearly 5,450 were injured during the three-week offensive. Thirteen Israeli soldiers were also killed.