The debate over the use of white phosphorus in the battle of Fallujah took a new twist when it emerged the US Army teaches senior officers it is against the "laws of war" to fire the incendiary weapon at human targets.
A section from an instruction manual used by the US Army Command and General Staff School (CGSC) at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, makes clear that white phosphorus (WP) can be used to produce a smoke screen. But it adds: "It is against the law of land warfare to employ WP against personnel targets."
The row has raged since last year when US troops cleared the insurgent stronghold of Fallujah during a two-week operation that resulted in the deaths of 50 US Marines and more than 1,200 insurgents. Though the US at first denied it had used WP, the Pentagon has admitted using the weapon against insurgent targets. It insists the use of incendiary weapons against military targets is permitted.
But military specialists said the "laws of land warfare" taught at the CGSC are the guidelines that the US Army teaches as general principles. The GCSC generally teaches officers of senior rank such as major and colonel. John Pike, of the military studies group GlobalSecurity.Org, said: "These are the general principles about proportionality, doctrine and so on and so forth."
The Pentagon said it could not account for the discrepancy between its admission that WP was used at Fallujah and the guidance in the teaching manual. A Pentagon spokesman, Lt-Col Barry Venable, said: "For starters, the handbook doesn't say it's banned ... It's also important to remember that WP was used in Fallujah to help dislodge insurgent fighters from prepared defensive positions so that they could then be targeted with high-explosives ammunition."
He also quoted the Army Field Manual, which states: "The use of weapons which employ fire ... is not violative of international law. They should not, however, be employed in such a way as to cause unnecessary suffering to individuals."
The 1980 UN Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons prohibits use of incendiaries against civilians and demands that forces using them against military targets take all available steps to avoid civilian casualties.
Daryl Kimball, the executive director of the Arms Control Association, said: "The evidence available suggests that that may not have been done."Reuse content