War crimes: Did the U.S. use white phosphorus without informing its allies?

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Why is the United States allegedly using a a toxic and lethal weapon apparently without informing its war partners? Kellie Tranter investigates.

WHAT'S GOING ON with war coalition partners keeping each other informed? One would think this would be essential to a concerted effort against a common foe.

The use of white phosphorus is a case in point. It’s use has been widely reported on but the ADF deny having any documents either by the ADF or the U.S. led coalition referring to its use.

The FOI request was for copies of documents, cables or correspondence relating to the use – or knowledge of the use – of white phosphorus munitions in Iraq and Syria by the Department of Defence or the U.S.-led coalition in 2017.

The response of the ADF to that request produced only an “open source” ISIS document along with the statement:

'The advice received below is from the area responsible for this subject. Their advice is there were no documents found matching the scope of your request.'

It beggars belief that one coalition partner could be using such a toxic and lethal weapon as white phosphorus without informing the other partners, or that its use is not monitored by the authorities responsible for their own personnel in the same theatre who might be exposed to it.

Human Rights Watch reported in June:

‘The U.S.-led coalition states that as a matter of policy it cannot publicly discuss the use of specific munitions, but admits to using white phosphorus in its operation in Iraq and Syria. US Army Col. Ryan Dillon, a spokesperson for the US-led coalition in Iraq and Syria, told international media on June 9 that, “in accordance with the law of armed conflict, white phosphorus rounds are used for screening, obscuring and marking in a way that fully considers the possible incidental effects on civilians and civilian structures.”'

Colonel Dillon fails to point out that white phosphorus will burn through skin to the bone and that water won’t put it out. Its use should certainly not occur in urban or other areas where there is any significant concentration of civilians.

It was also reported in June that the U.S.-led coalition admitted to using white phosphorus during operations in the Iraqi city of Mosul, an area where the ADF has been particularly active.

Col Dillon's words about "the possible incidental effects on civilians" provide no reassurance that the risk of death or serious injury to civilians is given any particular weight. The formal admissions by the US about using white phosphorus and the ADF's alleged ignorance call into question the accountability of coalition partners to other partners and to the wider public. When, if ever, are we going to be provided with accurate and frank disclosures of exactly what the ADF and its partners are unleashing and their real effect on civilian inhabitants?

Kellie Tranter is a lawyer and human rights activist. You can follow Kellie on Twitter @KellieTranter.

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