Images posted on a website linked to the Pentagon clearly show U.S. Army personnel firing white phosphorus munitions against the Islamic State group in Iraq, despite the chemical's volatility and the horrific injuries it causes.
The public affairs website DVIDS published a photograph of U.S. soldiers loading artillery identified in a Sunday Washington Post article as M825A1 155mm shells.
It is unclear exactly how the napalm-like chemical is being used. Under international legal norms, the use of white phosphorus is banned in civilian areas, and the chemical is only to be used to form smoke screens or signals for advancing troops.
But the U.S. has used white phosphorous in combat previously, and the Pentagon has also recently admitted that it has sold quantities of the substance to Saudi Arabia for use in its conflict against Yemen.
Col. Joseph Scrocca, the public affairs director for the U.S.-led coalition, told the Post Wednesday that the rounds were only being used for “screening and signaling.”
“Coalition forces use these rounds with caution and always in accordance with the Law of Armed Conflict," he told the Post in an email. "When M825A1 rounds are employed, they are done so in areas free of civilians and never against enemy forces,” Scrocca wrote.
The following day, Air Force Col. John Dorrian, the spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition, added, “In the foreground of the photo are 155mm white phosphorus rounds, which are used for screening, obscuring, and marking. When U.S. forces use these munitions, as required by the Law of Armed Conflict, they do so in a way that fully considers possible incidental effects on civilians and civilian structures.”
Dorrian also told the Post that the image posted online by the Pentagon was of U.S. forces’ support of a Kurdish peshmerga assault during operation Evergreen II. The white phosphorus smoke rounds were used in order to hide Kurdish forces moving in on enemy positions.
Dorrian was unable to say whether civilians were present, or where exactly the rounds were dropped.
The United States’ use of the malevolent substance has been most notable in the 2004 battle for Fallujah, which caused grotesque birth defects among the civilian population. In Afghanistan, too, white phosphorus has been used by U.S. troops, primarily in the country’s restive east, where in 2009, NATO forces came under fire for burning an 8-year-old girl with the munitions.