CHESTER HAS MOVED!: Finally . . .

Friday, November 12, 2004

Finally . . .

Fox is finally running something other than the Peterson circus. They quote Islam Online as saying that US forces are using chemical weapons against insurgents in Fallujah. [I can't find the exact reference on the website.] I agree with the comment of a reader the other day [can't find which post] who said that they are probably using White Phosphorous rounds, which burn the skin and smoke a great deal, and have the added benefit of serving as a marking technique for aerial fires to roll in and finish the job -- combined arms at work: You hit the target with small arms while you call for fire, then watch the bad guys skin burn off, then watch a jet toss something on them just to be sure. Then you do it again. To the uninitiated, WP would look like chemical weapons. UPDATE: To the reader who wonders the difference between chemical weapons and white phosphorus, I submit that they are both pretty bad if you are on the receiving end. I imagine that WP is just not considered a chemical weapon by various international treaties. I'll investigate further, but here are some links: eMedicine - CBRNE - Incendiary Agents, White Phosphorus : Article by Lisandro Irizarry, MD, MPH, FAAEM Artillery Terms and Tactics Let's not forget that any kind of artillery fire is pretty hellacious, and this link describes much of it. Here's a description of a Soviet-made WP munition. UPDATE 2: Many good insightful comments about this post. If only we had a subject matter expert who could answer our speculation about WP. Also, perhaps I spoke out of turn about the "watching their skin burn off" bit. A little too graphic perhaps. Keep the comments coming.


Blogger Jeff said...

To the unitiated--even fervent supporters of the war like myself--it might sound appalling. Why is this less morally objectionable than chemical weapons?


November 12, 2004 at 3:53 PM  
Blogger linuxotaku said...

If this is done in such a way as to cause unnecessary suffering (watching the bad guy's skin burn off) rather than marking a target -- then it is contrary to the conventions and even to the US guidelines:$FILE/Chapter%202%20-%20Law%20of%20War.htm

To quote:

'Examples: Napalm, flame-throwers, tracer rounds, and white phosphorous. None of these are illegal per se or illegal by treaty. The only U.S. policy guidance is found in paragraph 36 of FM 27-10 which warns that they should "not be used in such a way as to cause unnecessary suffering."'

November 12, 2004 at 4:46 PM  
Blogger Jak0zilla said...

I'm sure someone can post a more informed answer to Jeff's question about why White Phosphorus wouldn't be morally the same as chemical weapons. (I am not a soldier)

WP is used mainly for it's thermal effect and to generate smoke (to mark targets). When it contacts human flesh it starts a chemical reaction which will burn clear through to the bone. Seems to me to be a "wrong place, wrong time" sort of thing. Like being inside an armored vehicle hit by a DU penetrator when after pentrating the armor the DU fragments turn incendiary.

It probably is a bit morally ambigous to use. Then again, it's got a number on the periodic table - VX or sarin don't. Chemical reactions are one of the cornerstones of modern warfare (explosives and gunpowder use chemical reactions to produce their actions).

Just my 2 cents worth ....

November 12, 2004 at 4:50 PM  
Blogger Todd said...

Link to article mentioning White Phosphorous rounds in Fallujah.

November 12, 2004 at 5:06 PM  
Blogger Peyton said...

My understanding, and I wasn't an artillery guy, is that red phosphorous is more horrible as an antipersonnel burner, and they don't use it anymore, as far as I know. White phosphorous makes an enormous amount of smoke, and a lot of heat. If you were trying to burn the people, you would use other weapons like they did clearing caves in Afghanistan. If you were trying to obscure the battlefield for those who don't have infrared viewing devices, and also scare the heck out of the bad guys in the area, you'd use "Willi Pete." I'm sure that they're going for the obscuration, as well as a shock-and-awe (panic) effect.

Trivia point: a mix of high explosive and white phosphorous shells is called "shake and bake."

I'm sick to death of the Peterson trial, although I'm glad they found him guilty. I hope he gets two consecutive life terms in the electric chair.

November 12, 2004 at 6:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Poor mans white phosporus: Five gallon can filled with wood chunks, charcoal, etc then topped off with thickened gasoline or diesel. Detonate with a small charge of C-4 placed under can laying on side. For a more spectacular effect hang it in a tree about 20 feet off the ground. Fuze as appropiate.

November 12, 2004 at 7:47 PM  
Blogger Mark Tempest said...

The difference is in intent. White phosphorous is legal to use for ranging and marking targets which can then be destroyed with conventional ordnance. Generally, any enemy hit with WP was in the wrong place at the wrong time. From the perspective of the recipient of WP used as a marker and followed by a barrage of conventional weapons, I'm not sure what difference it makes. Dead is dead.

In theory, WP should not be used as a primary anti-personnel weapon. The exception being situations where you have nothing else left in your bag of goodies and still have bad guys to kill.

"Incendiaries, which include napalm, flame throwers, tracer rounds and white phosphorus, are not illegal, per se, but must be monitored for their use to prevent "unnecessary suffering." For instance, white phosphorus is not banned as a method for marking targets or for igniting flammable targets, but it should not be used as an anti-personnel munition unless other types of conventional antipersonnel ordnance are unavailable." Law From a law of war perspective, chemical and biological weapons are more insidious because they are not necessarily limited in area or duration - their effects can cause harm to non-combatants well away from the "battle zone.".

November 12, 2004 at 7:57 PM  
Blogger Mark Tempest said...

And, to finish the thought, the intent of using a chemical or biological weapon is not to mark targets for destruction by other means, but to inflict direct harm with indifference to the suffering of the targets of the attack.

November 12, 2004 at 8:09 PM  
Blogger Mark Tempest said...

And, to round it out, here's a link to FM 27-10.

November 12, 2004 at 8:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Willie Pete is no f'ing joke! Let those terrorist ####ers have it!

November 12, 2004 at 9:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Another think about WP burns... and something that makes them particularly nasty... Even a small burn does not heal well at all. For some reason (the medical types out there could tell you more) the residual phosporous in the burn inhibits the healing process.


November 12, 2004 at 11:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Former 11C (Army mortarman) turned reserve Infantry officer here. WP is nasty stuff indeed. Mainly used for two purposes: marking targets and putting down smokescreens to mask oncoming forces. Hard to shoot what you can't see. Very effective for smokescreens, especially if there isn't wind to carry the smoke away. WP burns in the presence of oxygen, which is bad news for anybody hit with it. When I went through Basic back in the 80s we were instructed to pack mud over any WP we were hit with; of course the med types would have to pick the burning piece of it out of you somehow when you got to the aid station.
As for employment of this stuff: at the battalion level or below smokesreen missions would typically be carried out by the battalion's mortars. In an Army mech battalion this would be 6 guns of 120 mm (replaced the old 4.2 inch mentioned in the Viet Vet site in the early 90s); the Marine units I THINK would have a mix of 81mm and 60mm. Perhaps one of our Marines can clarify that. At the brigade level it would likely be carried out by the battalion of 155mm howitzers. Commander would designate an area he wished the smokescreen to be applied at and for what duration. Impact points necessary to achieve that would be plotted, depending on wind direction. Each gun would be given one impact point, and fire one round at regular intervals (going from hazy memory, I think it was one round every 30 seconds, maybe more or less often depending on wind speed). Under ideal conditions the enemy would be unable to see anything while friendly forces are free to maneuver unhindered.

November 13, 2004 at 6:16 AM  

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