The Fog of War - WP, Fallujah and some burning questions

Discussion in 'Current Affairs, News and Analysis' started by barbs, Nov 15, 2005.

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  1. Ladies and Gentlemen,

    This is an excellent (in my humble opinion) article from the independent about the morality of fighting war, particularly the war in Iraq. It is long but easy to read.

    The focus is on use of WP as an offensive weapon (as banned by international treaty) and the use of napalm against targets in Iraq generally and in Fallujah specifically.

    As a professional officer I find it very hard to justify the use of these weapons in a built-up area with a population of up to 300,000 souls, of whom no more than 1200 were suspected of being insurgents.

    Regardless of the legality of going to war (of which we have heard much) what are your opinions about using such indiscriminate weapons?
  2. If the life of a British or American soldier can be saved by using whatever we need to win the battle then fine, lets just use it wisely, bad PR and if used badly, its needless suffering. To deny ourselves a weapon is playing into the hands of Amnesty and Cherie's hands. What next, no mortars?
  3. barbs

    WP can legally be used as an offensive weapon, the Indy article says
  4. But isn't the point about whether WP is chemical or thermic a matter of semantics? I think Barbs is concerned more about its effect, particularly on non-combatants, rather than its classification.
  5. [Edited to say I was so slow writing this that someone got in before me - well darn here it is]

    Surely there is an ethical or moral dilemma here - I wouldn't wish to reduce our armoury and certainly do not think that these weapons should be banned. The simple fact that a weapon is permitted doesn't mean its indiscriminate use is justified.

    I would suggest that semantic arguments about purpose and use are not too likely to lead very far -e.g., WP weapons are not illegal per se but their use against civilian populations are prohibited. We are not talking of a few rounds going astray or dropping short by mistake, we are talking about the systematic use of the weapons in order to burn the insurgents out of their hiding places. I can see a justification for burning them out of caves but not out of a civilian population.

    Nor is this a PR issue - it is a moral leadership issue.
  6. There certainly is a moral leadership issue. The population of Fallujah should not have countenance the presence of insurgents in their midst. The occupation of Fallujah, and its conversion into a terrorist bastion, is a clear indicator of a failing of moral leadership on the part of the citizens of Fallujah. No insurgents, no bombardment. Pretty simple equation.
  7. Edited to delete duplicate posting.
  8. I find it hard to think of a more facile reply than this. Moral leadership? Barbs is asking a question that deserves more than a flippant response. The population of NI, London, Birmingham, etc. etc. are equally culpable for what happened 'in their midst' by this reckoning.

    (Server connection problems again: replication of post possible.)
  9. By that rational then, you say the British Army would have been justified in using WP in NI as the locals were harbouring known terrorists?

    Sorry wrong. I don't think your average joe on the streets of Fallujah really had a say on whether the local terrorists could stay or not.
  10. So you wouldnt have liked my post that said that WP is the perfect way to give the insurgents a white Christmas then? (server problems caused it not be posted... maybe I should have got the hint).
  11. There were no war crimes committed, and in fact, the civilian population was given the opportunity to evacuate the town. It's a pity that the problem of Fallujah couldn't be solved by passing out candy and school supplies to the populace.

    The following comes courtesy of I've found it a fairly good resource for getting to the truth of some of the more blitheringly insipid news stories regarding the war:

    You may want to share this with your readers. This is not a professional work, but just an informal analysis.

    I had this conversation yesterday regarding this news story about WP being used as a chemical weapon.

    I am a former fire support officer, who was trained to travel with infantry and armor units and be the eyes of the artillery to call for fire.
    I read the article from the Italian news source, and let me state unequivocally that what it claims is physically impossible. A white phosphorous round used for illumination is a base ejecting projectile that "opens" in the air and floats down under a parachute. The projectile casing does continue down range, but fire direction officers and fire support officers along with the maneuver commanders clear this impact area as part of the calculations. The projectile casing itself could kill a person, as any bullet would, but it is not possible to use it as a chemical warfare attack.
    The flare itself floats down and you would pretty much have to chase after it and position yourself under where you project it will land to even get burned. It is possible although very unlikely that this flare could hit a building and could cause a fire, but the injury wouldn’t be a chemical burn, but a burn from the building fire. I have never seen anything close to this happen.
    The flares come down slowly and usually burn out first, but since they are the brightest thing in the sky, it would be easy to avoid one if it landed while burning. I have seen a few flares land on the ground while burning, but this is much different than a chemical attack.
    The only way you could purposely harm anyone with this is if you direct fired at a short range. The projectile most likely wouldn't eject the flare (it has a timed fuse) and it really wouldn't matter if you fired Cheetohs at someone at that range, the concussion would kill them.
    An artillery unit wouldn't use direct fire unless it was being attacked. And even then it would use their organic direct fire weapons and if necessary, another type of projectile. To use a WP for direct fire would be entirely counterproductive to the security of the battery even in self defense.

    This Italian news story is nothing but a lie.

    After being asked repeatedly to analyze the “Italian News Story” (gag), I analyzed the video, here are my thoughts

    I analyzed the video and am pleased to announce that it is junk. There are many things I could point out, but here is what sticks out.
    1. The “fire raining down from the helicopter” was the part that concerned me. I had to watch it repeatedly to figure it out. At first I thought it was the backblast from a missile being fired the other direction. After a more thorough analysis, I realize it was an air burst of WP artillery rounds. Those are basically small rags that looked like balls of fire. This is because it is night and it is hard to get perspective at night, with or without night vision equipment. Taken out of context, it is easy to make it look like fire raining down on the city. The rag would certainly burn, but it would be like a cigarette and you would just need to brush it off, maybe take off clothes, and get away from it.
    2. The voice over states "contrary to the claim by the state department that WP was used in open fields, this was not true because tracer rounds were used to illuminate the enemy" Nothing could have spelled out liar any bigger than that one statement. Tracy rounds are never used to illuminate the enemy. The glow from a tracer round lasts tenths of a second and travels hundreds of miles an hour; it could not possibly be used for this function, again a claim that defies all practicality. Tracer rounds are used to see where your bullets are going so your fire can be adjusted, flat out. And quoting the State Department about a military function?

    3. The pictures of dead bodies while hideous provide no analytical value. Contrast the opening from Vietnam, with the burned little girl, running from a napalmed village. That is conclusive evidence. Nothing about these dead bodies looked any different to the many dead bodies I have seen analyzing other videos (of dead bodies) that were all made that way (dead) by Saddam’s regime and then by Jihadists. There is no way to determine what killed these people by looking at pictures, except maybe by a forensics expert.

    4. The soldiers, this is more complicated:
    I find the taller guy, I think his name was Garret, credible. His story rang true and is tragically repeated. But this is not a war crime or a chemical attack, but bad target identification and a complete human tragedy, assuming the "civilians" were indeed non combatants, it is very hard for the soldiers to tell. Although I do question his motives that is irrelevant to this analysis since he provides no “evidence” of chemical weapons.
    The other guy Jeff was a liar, to the point I would need to see his orders to believe he was in Iraq. He states, (paraphrasing) "the orders unequivocally came from the pentagon to wait until after the election".
    How does he know this? Was he CENTCOM commander at the time? Did the CENTCOM commander call him up and tell him that? Even if it was true, that fact in itself is not nefarious.
    The re-election of Bush would be a crushing blow to the Jihadists in Fallujah, and let me tell you, I have seen their own videos recovered from there and the place was crawling with them. It would make tactical sense to wait, if you were pretty confident that Bush would win. They call this tactical patience.
    Also, the timing of the attack was heavily influenced by the Iraqi Provisional Authority. The U.S. had just helped them form and wanted to get them involved with running their country as soon as possible. That is why the first battle of Fallujah was ended, because the new Iraqi government wanted more time to talk with the Jihadists. That is until the new Iraqi government officials figured out that they were now the primary target of the Jihadists and told the U.S. effectively, go get them (the Jihadists in Fallujah) as soon as you can.
    Jeff states (paraphrasing), that the U.S. was using chemical weapons because we used WP. Hogwash. The video itself showed the flares floating slowly to the ground and the ground itself gave perspective. Now I am not saying I would want WP on my skin, but I wouldn't want Drano on my skin either and I am not declaring chemical warfare on my home. Now a person could make the argument that you could take that Drano and throw it on your neighbor and that would be a chemical attack. True, but, you can not spew WP from a deployed flare because if it is burning, it is burning the WP. You wouldn’t want to put your mouth over it, of course, and you wouldn’t want to purposely hold it to your skin, but you would have to go out of the way to hurt yourself with a flare.

    c. He states (paraphrasing) when they used the stuff (WP) they would come over the net and say the WP is coming or "commence bombing" or something.
    Commence bombing? Who was on the net giving this sitrep, Clark Gable? That’s about the last time anybody used this term. This guy is a clown. And notice he makes claims and then says, oh, I didn't see it, but I heard about it.

    5. The real tip off about the credibility of this “news story” is the pictures of dead animals.
    The voice over said, paraphrasing: that several animals were found dead with no visible sign of trauma.
    First off, did they examine the animals? If so, they didn’t show it. Sure something is not visible, if you don’t look! Animals die everyday from natural causes, hunger, disease, or even getting hit by cars or possibly by conventional weapons.
    And get this, they show people who appear burned and claim this to be a sign of a chemical weapon, then they show animals with no injuries in the context of this discussion to imply they died of a mysterious chemical weapon. Their “facts” not only fail to support each other, but they directly conflict with each other. Yet they choose to throw them at the viewer with full understanding of the emotional impact of these images.

    6. A human rights group based in Fallujah? For crying out loud, that was Saddam's power base. That is were the people burned four contractors and hung them from a bridge.

    By introducing these “facts” in the context of a chemical weapons discussion, yet not having any supporting evidence, I can only conclude that not only are these charges false, but this was done with the documentary creator’s full knowledge that they were baseless charges. In other words, they purposely lied, which goes to their credibility.

    After I wrote this, I was informed of more “supporting evidence” linked on the

    “"WP [i.e., white phosphorus rounds] proved to be an effective and versatile munition. We used it for screening missions at two breeches and, later in the fight, as a potent psychological weapon against the insurgents in trench lines and spider holes when we could not get effects on them with HE. We fired 'shake and bake' missions at the insurgents, using WP to flush them out and HE to take them out."
    -- Field Artillery Magazine, via Steven D

    My analysis:

    I don’t mean to speak for the author, but this is evident

    ""WP [i.e., white phosphorus rounds] proved to be an effective and versatile munition."

    Very true and widely known among redlegs (artillerymen). Nothing interesting here.

    "We used it for screening missions at two breeches ..."

    The kind of projectile they are speaking about here creates smoke. It is widely, commonly, and legally used by every army to conceal their men. Usually, if an obstacle needs to be breeched, the smoke is delivered by artillery in between the obstacle and the enemy observer. It can also be placed on the enemy to confuse and scare them. The smoke itself is uncomfortable, but not dangerous, unless you want to sit on top of the projectile and breathe it. I know because I have experienced it.

    "and, later in the fight, as a potent psychological weapon against the insurgents in trench lines and spider holes when we could not get effects on them with HE."

    Notice he said psychological weapon and not chemical weapon. This is because the smoke would confuse the enemy and conceal our movements and would indeed, scare them.

    "We fired 'shake and bake' missions at the insurgents"

    A poor choice of phrasing because it is not technically accurate and does give the wrong impression, but this is a soldier and not a politician or a marketing strategist. (After further consideration, I think if the reference is to the projectile itself and not to the effect on flesh, it could be accurate. The HE would shake the ground and the material that creates smoke does so by burning (baking) but you would pretty much have to try to set yourself on fire by rolling around in it.)

    "using WP to flush them out and HE to take them out."

    This takes a little bit of imagination. Imagine you are in a fighting position and the enemy is dropping smoke near your position. You ask yourself "why are they dropping smoke here?" the answer "because they are coming right through here." So, you haul butt out of your defensive position and expose yourself to HE.

    This statement has absolutely nothing to do with the “dual use” of smoke (WP) as a chemical weapon. It is stating that WP can have a psychological effect as well as a tactical use. That is the only “dual use” here.

    -Ray Robison is a Sr. Military Operations Research Analyst with Scientific Applications International Corporation at the Aviation and Missile, Research, Development, Engineering Command in Huntsville Alabama. His background includes over ten years of military service as an officer and enlisted soldier in the Medical Branch, Field Artillery and Signal Corp including the Gulf War and Kosovo operations. Most recently he worked as a contractor for DIA with the Iraqi Survey Group.
  12. My two pence: If you have a legitimate target then personally I don't have any problem with what weapon is used to attack them whether it is a bayonet or a fuel-air explosive.

    To state the two obvious points: 1.The problem comes when weapons have a large potential for collateral damage which WP certainly does. 2. The problem gets much worse in urban environments.

    The death of civilians (in Iraq one should quantify by saying non combatant civilians) is deeply regrettable. Does it really matter if they were burned to death by WP or torn apart by 7.62 or inadvertently reversed over by tracked vehicles. I would argue not - dead is dead.

    It does seem that the Americans were a little indiscriminate in Faluja but without wanting to add to the constant digs against them their doctrine does revolve around firepower so what else should we expect?

    The only way to avoid civilian casualties in this sort of fight is to avoid the fight in the first place and allow the insurgents to operate in towns and cities without fear of being assaulted. I really cannot see any other way unless we develop a new arsenal of non lethal weapons or a new more discreet though much more risky urban COIN doctrine. Both of these would be likely to fail.
  13. WP is not used for Illum, the flarepot contains magnesium. It can be set to burst on the ground, as the opening altitude is set before the round is fired. As any fule no, magnesium does burn with a very high temperature but WP is the round of choice for incendiary effect. [/pedant/Spotter]

    Concerning the moral aspects of weaponry, I gather that In GW1 the Iraqis where warned in no uncertain terms not to use their flamethrower capability. I've seen video of their kit in action - its at the SASC museum in Warminster - not nice.
  14. Yank Lurker

    Thank you for giving us that. I do not dispute that Americans were not using WP as a chemical weapon, what is clear is that there are allegations of it being used as an offensive weapon indiscriminately against the non-combatant civilian population. What is difficult to reconcile is that there are a large number of casualties and dead with wounds attributable to contact with WP. It is not as if someone has been run over by a reversing tank, that is regrettable but sh1t happens: likewise people getting hit by HV rounds fired some distance away.

    In my opinion there is a moral issue that the blog report does not answer -i.e., use of a weapon system in an immoral way. Notwithstanding that a weapon system is legal, conforms to all international treaties and used with established ROE and within the LOAC its use can still be considered morally wrong.

  15. Excellent.It's superb to hear the voice of reason amidst the PC bleating