I met a woman at a conference today who had just returned from a year teaching writing to soldiers in Afghanistan. She told me something disturbing — that she knew a 20 year Afghani woman who’d been burned by white phosphorus. She said the girl went to the hospital and when the doctor started treating the injury, the burn “exploded,” creating a much bigger injury. According to the woman I met, the delivery method used for a white phosphorus attack is by air and she said the only party capable of an air attack in Afghanistan is the USA.
When I got home, I looked this up and got a distressing number of hits about the use of white phosphorus in Gaza and in Afghanistan. White phosphorus does not fall under the category of a chemical weapon and is therefore not banned. The Geneva Convention prohibits the use of incendiary weapons such as white phosphorus against civilian populations but their use against “military targets” is not specifically prohibited. Some of the material I found online indicated that you could use it in mortar and rocket attacks — which contradicts what the writing teacher told me.
Whoever is using it, the effects of white phosphorus are horrific. The stuff sticks to your skin and then continues burning, creating deep destructive burns. Exposure to the smoke can also damage the lungs, eyes, and mucous membranes.
Israel used white phosphorus on the village of Khoza’a, southern Gaza:
White phosphorus in Gaza: the victims
Radio Free Europe reports that US and Nato forces in Afghanistan acknowledge using white phosphorus to “create smokescreens” in Farah province:
Investigation Launched Into White Phosphorus Claims In Afghanistan
UK Guardian reports on same Farah province attack (May 2009):
Phosphorus claim after fatal air strikes in Afghanistan
London Times says it’s the Taleban using white phosphorus:
Taleban using white phosphorus, some of it made in Britain
US also claims it was the other guys using white phosphorus in the Farah attack:
U.S.: Afghan militants using white phosphorous