The U.S. military confirmed yesterday that it used artillery rounds containing white phosphorus against insurgents during the assault on Fallujah last November, but said it did not use the highly flammable agent against civilians as claimed in an Italian television report.
Lt. Col. Barry Venable, a Pentagon spokesman, said U.S. forces in Fallujah "employed white phosphorus . . . as an incendiary weapon against enemy combatants," but said that "suggestions that U.S. forces targeted civilians with these weapons are simply wrong."
Defense officials acknowledged that they could not rule out the possibility that the phosphorous munitions accidentally hit civilians during the Fallujah offensive, which involved the heaviest U.S. combat since the March 2003 invasion of Iraq.
U.S. troops who took part in the Fallujah battle recounted in detail their use of white phosphorus -- most commonly employed to obscure troops during an assault or to mark targets -- as an effective weapon for routing out insurgents from "trench lines and spider holes," according to an article written by three of the soldiers and published in the March-April 2005 issue of Field Artillery magazine.
Venable said munitions containing white phosphorus are not illegal and are considered conventional, not chemical, weapons.
-- Ann Scott Tyson