Monday, May 11, 2009

Willy Pete

It was after the catastrophe,
when they shot the president and machine-gunned
the Congress and the army declared
a state of emergency.
They blamed it on the Islamic fanatics, at the time
—The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood

(A quote for Sheerahkahn.)

The Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission is concerned that the U.S. used white phosphorus as an anti-personnel weapon in violation of international agreements outlawing the use of chemical weapons.

The charge arose after suspect burns were sustained in the already contentious battle last Monday in Farah province, fighting which may have caused the largest number of Afghan civilian deaths since the 2001 U.S. invasion that ousted the Taliban.

"The American military denied using [White Phosphorus] in the battle in Farah province — which
President Hamid Karzai has said killed 125 to 130 civilians — but left open the possibility that Taliban militants did" (Concerns White Phosphorus Used in Afghan Battle).

It would be very easy to deny this charge by simply releasing the Artillery Log Books, which would show what rounds were fired and when. This is SOP for firing units

"Col. Greg Julian, the top U.S. military spokesman in Afghanistan, said the U.S. did not use white phosphorus as a weapon in last week's battle. The U.S. does use white phosphorous to illuminate the night sky, he said."

There is a little duplicity here. Illumination and White Phosphorus are two different types of munitions. WP is SQ (super quick fuse), and illumination is set with timers on the fuse and has parachute carriers for the illumination.
WP does not illuminate a night sky.

Despite the protest of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who has consistently decried civilian casualties and called for an end to airstrikes, U.S. N
ational Security Adviser Gen. James Jones (ret'd.) refused to rule out any action because "we can't fight with one hand tied behind our back.'"

But counterinsurgency
is about fighting with one hand tied behind your back.

Since Afghanistan is supposed to be a COIN operation, not a conventional battle, Ranger is confused as to the U.S.'s objectives. Either we are there to win their hearts and minds or we are there to kill them, but we cannot do both. Either it is COIN or it is not. If NSA Jones feels that two-handed fighting is the key to success, we have some muddled thinking in our national command authority.

"Afghan officials say up to 147 people may have died in the battle in Farah, though
the U.S. says that number is exaggerated. " As usual, U.S. official response is rather blase about indigenous deaths. The U.S. historically accuses our enemies of not valuing human life, but statements like this discount the value of the lives, regardless of the exact number lost.

Kabul on Sunday, hundreds of people marched near Kabul University to protest the U.S. military's role in the deaths. Protesters carried signs denouncing the U.S. and chanted anti-American slogans."

Demonstrations in Kabul, but none in the U.S.

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Anonymous sheerahkahn said...

I want you to know that there are times as I read current news about our government and politics that I think back to my reading of the handmaids tale, and I feel like I've read this news somewhere else before.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009 at 10:18:00 AM GMT-5  
Blogger The Minstrel Boy said...

i think one of the most dangerous things about both fronts in the PWOT (there was an article today in the WaPo bemoaning the fact that Iraq might become the "forgotten" war) is that seven years into this shit we still don't know what we are supposed to be accomplishing.

according to the often misunderstood and more often misquoted sun tzu, states (actually sun tzu used "kings") can commit the national equivalent of suicide by fighting long wars.

we get into long conflicts by not having a clear picture of our objectives. when going to war the first, and most important question is this:

what the fuck is in this for us?wars must always hold the self interests of the principals foremost in their planning and thinking.

the reasons might be ones that we find reprehensible. caesar fought his gallic wars for plunder and glory, he garnered shitloads of both. he went to gaul massively in debt and marginally popular with a small but solid base of political support.

coming back to rome he was the most powerful entity on the map. he had battle tested and hardened legions at his back. even the celebrated pompey could not stand against him.

ceasar knew what he wanted to achieve from his war. he knew it in exact and measurable terms. there were even some bonus points from the gallic campaign. because the major product of his plunder was slaves ceasar was able, through the slave dealers who serviced the markets of persia and parthia to establish personal relationships with those powerful nations. he made it all work for him.

it has been made obvious that the wars in iraq and afghanistan have been fought under clouds of lying and treachery. we aren't clear how we got into them, we aren't clear how we can get the fuck out of them.

we were told that we were in afghanistan to track down osama and the folks who engineered the attacks on new york and washington.

cool. but, it's been seven years of dead or alive and nobody is able to say with a reasonable degree of certainty where osama is and if he is dead or alive.

when it comes to the "reasons" for our invasion and occupation of iraq, they were lying every time they told us why. they are still lying today. they have changed their stories so many times i doubt that even they realize what the truth of it was.

unfortunately, we elected people twice who thought orwell's 1984 was a how-to piece.

they would also be fine with a handmaid's tale scenario.

i don't know the way out. i'm glad i'm not there. i hope that the friends i do have over there find ways to get home alive.

for the ones who can't come home, it will take generations before we know what actually happened, if we ever know.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009 at 12:51:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger Rez Dog said...

Actually, some people ARE demonstrating against Obama's war in Afghanistan. IVAW and supporters protested the escalation and related stop loss policies last Saturday outside the gates of Fort Lewis. My former comrades in Arizona will be at ASU to remind him why he was elected when he visits there tomorrow. Like all such actions, they ae largely ignored by the media.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009 at 2:21:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger Lisa said...

Rez Dog,

I'm glad to hear of the ASU protest. Always ignored by the media, until the weight and ubiquitousness of protest becomes too much to bury.

Protesters must barrage the leaders and the news outlets.

Also, as with the civil rights protesters, they must be ready to absorb assaults, because that is what makes the press, unfortunately.

My mother (who worked at a large metro paper at the time) said that the organizers would call even the most well-attended event a failure unless there was some confrontation form the police, because that is what would give them print.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009 at 2:28:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger Lisa said...


Yes, there is an aspect of deja vu, no?


"1984" as a how-to piece. Now there's an observation.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009 at 2:32:00 PM GMT-5  
Anonymous Andy said...

There was no artillery, the munitions were dropped from aircraft. There was no WP, that is simply propaganda.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009 at 9:47:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger rangeragainstwar said...

Thanks for the info. What is the source of this info.? If correct i'll use this to update my entry.

Thursday, May 14, 2009 at 5:24:00 AM GMT-5  
Blogger rangeragainstwar said...

A Human Rights Watch, for one, is skeptical about reports that the coalition used white phosphorus in the Farah airstrike. But the group is not convinced that the coalition has completely refrained from using white phosphorus rounds, either. The watchdog group recently issued a statement urging the NATO forces to reveal the results of an investigation into an incident in which an 8-year-old girl in Kapisa province was allegedly burned by white phosphorus munitions. According to the Human Rights Watch report, NATO denied the girl’s injuries were caused by white phosphorus. But the military did not deny using the munitions during the engagement, which took place in Alahsay district of eastern Kapisa Province, where there has been a series of nasty fights with insurgent groups in recent months.

“White phosphorus causes horrendous burns and should not be used in civilian areas,” Marc Garlasco, senior military analyst at Human Rights Watch, says. “NATO and U.S. forces need to reassure the people of Afghanistan, already alarmed by high civilian casualties, that these munitions are not being used unlawfully.”

UPDATE: David Hambling here. Human Rights Watch may be skeptical about the claims that WP was used in the Farah firefight. But the Guardian’s coverage of the incident makes it sounds a bit more likely:

It's extremely hard to get anything on this engagement that IS NOT PROPAGANDA but due diligence indicates that 155mm arty WP rounds are routinely used by US forces engaged in AFGH. This si a fact as repoted thru reliable sources.
As for illum dropped from aircraft Ranger requests info from our readers. This practice should be documented if true.

Thursday, May 14, 2009 at 7:54:00 AM GMT-5  
Anonymous Andy said...


There's some confusion out there because there were two incidents that took place in completely separate parts of the country.

The first, detailed in your original post, was in Farah province and was what I commented on. Your latest comment is about a separate incident in Kapisa province that I don't know a lot about.

For the former, I base my assessment on my experience supporting air operations in Afghanistan. The US and Nato forces do not and have not, to my knowledge, ever loaded any kind of WP munitions on their aircraft. The incident in Farah was in a relatively isolated area that was not, to my knowledge, near any outpost with 155's. All the reporting that I've read also pretty clearly indicates the attack came from aircraft, not artillery.

The Kapisa incident I don't know much about. It looks like 155 arty was used and some kind of WP arty rounds might also have been used.

Overall, though I completely agree with your comments on how the US handles these incidents. They give the appearance, at the very least, of callousness.

The Taliban and their allies are quite good at exploiting not only our mistakes, but our poor response to those mistakes. They kill far more civilians than we do, yet keep the media and local focus on the US/NATO. I don't know how to "fix" that problem - not my area of expertise - but it must be fixed if we're going to continue and hope for any long-term success in Afghanistan.

Thursday, May 14, 2009 at 8:55:00 AM GMT-5  
Anonymous Andy said...

Also, I have never known aircraft to drop illum rounds in Afghanistan. In my 16 years working around Navy and Air Force aircraft, I've never seen on loaded on an aircraft or even used in training. I'm not sure such munitions are even in the inventory anymore.

The only thing our aircraft will do is dispense self-defense flares, especially down low (helicopters too). I know a couple of incidents where these have caused fires on the ground, including one in Afghanistan.

Thursday, May 14, 2009 at 9:05:00 AM GMT-5  
Blogger rangeragainstwar said...

Thanks for staying with the thread. I appreciate your input.

My knowledge is admittedly OBE but i'd find it hard to believe that WP rounds would be dropped from a/c. It would be shaky business having these aboard. And i acknowledge that flares will cause ground fires-always did and always will.

I like all tend to wrap around the axle and agree i'm discussing 2 separate incidents. Just trying to show that illum and WP are 2 different issues.
My final comment is that this war and Irq are garbage and nobody, either them or us'ns should be dying. Terrorism will not cut it when it's used to justify either war.

Thursday, May 14, 2009 at 10:56:00 AM GMT-5  
Blogger FDChief said...

Jim: I think you're showing your...ummm...battle scars, man. The old FDC log and the gun chief's logs have been replaced by the DA 4504 (Record of Fire). And you're right, if FA was involved there should be a paper trail. I find it hard to believe that the muj can get their hands on indecendiaries other than good old fashioned molitovs. WP is just too hard to store and handle. Oh, and the nonsensical comment about using WP as illum. just points out that the theatre PAOs assume that anyone not wearing a digital tree suit is an idiot.

I can't imagine why A/C would be conducting indecendiary missions, and aircraft indecendiary munitions have never been phosphorous-based since the end of the Vietnam War when the WP rockets were taken out of inventory.

But, as you point out, the real bottom line is the question; why are U.S. ground troops and aircraft - seven years AFTER the Great Victory of Afghanistan - fighting the muj in these little Afghan villes? Frankly, there is a point, and it should be soon, where we should flat out tell Karzai's people: start defending your "country".

But, of course, there is no "country", and we are chasing a chimera.

Thursday, May 14, 2009 at 12:56:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger rangeragainstwar said...


The word being put out in the US rebuttals is that the Talibs are using old Soviet WP?! I for one would think the stuff would be bleeding and/or unsafe to even transport. It's past the use date. But if the Army tells this story then who am I to question their version of truth?

There are so many ways I show my age these days.


Thursday, May 14, 2009 at 4:52:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger FDChief said...

Jim: WP, and even RP (red phosphorus) is fairly stable under controlled conditions. It does act as a thick gel or plastic inside the projo, so the TM warns you about firing M60 WP rounds that have not been stored base-down due to the probability of malfunction including premature detonation in the cannon bore.

These old Sov projos, however, are unlikely to have been stored in anything like controlled conditions. The likelihood of their malfunction is probably cloes to 100%.

Plus, frankly, the idea that the Talibs wouldn't use one to torch GIs seems risible. IF they are using this material, why haven't we seen an Allied troop with phos burns yet?

Doesn't pass the sniff test.

Thursday, May 14, 2009 at 5:21:00 PM GMT-5  
Anonymous Andy said...


There are indeed a lot of old Soviet stuff floating around out there, including WP rounds, though it's pretty rare when those are found. Who knows if they are still active or not - they are usually blown in place by EOD, or collected for mass disposal.

It's not just Soviet stuff either - we are still trying to buy-back any remaining stinger missiles even though any that remain probably don't work anymore.

Thursday, May 14, 2009 at 6:32:00 PM GMT-5  

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