Syria using white phosphorus bombs on civiliansBashar al-Assad's army is apparently using white phosphorus bombs on Syrian civilians, as seen in the video below, which was released by the Free Syrian Army. The helicopter involved - an Mi-24 Hind - is one used by the Syrian army. The use of white phosphorus bombs as an offensive weapon against a civilian population is a war crime, although the bombs' use is permitted for illumination and in areas where civilians are not present.
Let's go to the videotape.
Patrick Brennan explains further.
Stratfor explains, further, “A Syrian opposition activist said helicopters flown by regime forces dropped phosphorous bombs on Dayr al-Zawr, Al-Sharq Al-Awsat reported Dec. 7.”
White phosphorous is a brittle substance that burns extremely brightly. Phosphorous bombs are not completely banned by international law, because their use for illumination and, debatably, for intimidation purposes, is allowed; but the weapon can also cause severe chemical burns, harm victims with its vapor, and poison water or food supplies. (That said, Syria is not signatory to the Chemical Weapons Convention regulating this, though almost every other nation in the world is.)
This potential use of chemical weapons comes after sporadic reports of the regime’s use of cluster bombs, also banned by some international treaties (though again, to which Syria is not party). Now, on Wednesday, U.S. officials told NBC News that the regime has loaded the chemicals necessary to deploy sarin gas, a highly lethal chemical weapon, into bombs for use.You might recall that during and after Israel's Operation Cast Lead, there was an uproar over the use of white phosphorus. At the time, I pointed to this explanation of why Israel's use of the chemical was permitted.
Israel used White Phosphorus against HAMAS targets in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead in January 2009. This violated no international laws or conventions.
White Phosphorus (WP), known as Willy Pete, is used for signaling, screening, and incendiary purposes. White Phosphorus can be used to destroy the enemy's equipment or to limit his vision. It is used against vehicles, petroleum, oils and lubricants (POL) and ammunition storage areas, and enemy observers. WP can be used as an aid in target location and navigation. It is usually dispersed by explosive munitions. It can be fired with fuze time to obtain an airburst. White phosphorus was used most often during World War II in military formulations for smoke screens, marker shells, incendiaries, hand grenades, smoke markers, colored flares, and tracer bullets.
The Battle of Fallujah was conducted from 8 to 20 November 2004 with the last fire mission on 17 November. The battle was fought by an Army, Marine and Iraqi force of about 15,000 under the I Marine Expeditionary Force (IMEF). US forces found WP to be useful in the Battle of Fallujah. "WP 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. ... We used improved WP for screening missions when HC smoke would have been more effective and saved our WP for lethal missions."But of course, since what's going on in Syria is just Muslims killing Muslims, no one cares enough to raise the issue. In fact, no one will stop the Assad regime from using chemical weapons on his own population, even though the Obama administration once promised to ensure that would never happen. This is from Brennan again:
The U.S. had at one point seemed to declare that movement of chemical weapons in Syria would justify or require U.S. action, with President Obama declaring at an August 20 news conference that “a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized”; given that the gas is now being loaded into bombs, it seems fair to say, they have now been moved from their hiding places to bases from which they can be deployed. An NSC spokesman, however, claims that the president meant “‘moving around’ means proliferation,” which seems implausible: If the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons were in transit and about to fall into the hands of other states or non-state terrorist actors such as Hezbollah, that would constitute a “red line,” and presumably even this administration would not flinch in acting.
But that seems unlikely, something Assad has little interest in doing, and doesn’t seem to be what the president was talking about when he set his first “red line” — “moving around or being utilized” implies the first event as a hint that the second was about to occur (though we wouldn’t always be able to observe it before the second did), i.e., the Syrian government preparing its weapons, not transferring them to other actors — and now the Syrian government has done that, and the U.S. is not going to respond.
As to what the new red line implies, the State Department has not been very clear, either, with explaining what exactly the U.S. would do if Assad crosses the new red line. When asked yesterday if a redline would involve “some kind of a military response,” Deputy State spokesman Mark Toner responded that, “We’re not going to get into what the consequences would be, other than to say that there’s a red line. . . A red line is a red line.”What could go wrong?