New Zealand’s good name is being tarnished by comments in Iraq by Kiwi Brigadier, Hugh McAslan. In his role as deputy commander of the Combined Joint Forces Land Component Command-Operation Inherent Resolve, McAslan is supporting the use of white phosphorus weapons, which have been widely condemned, including by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
The US was criticised for its use the highly flammable napalm in the Vietnam war. White phosphorus has some similar effects when dropped on populated areas. The Independent newspaper explains that “if particles of ignited white phosphorus land on a person’s body, they can continue to burn through flesh to the bone. Toxic phosphoric acid can also be released into wounds, risking phosphorus poisoning. Inhaling the smoke can cause damage to the heart, liver and kidneys.”
Brigadier McAslan justifies the use of white phosporus in Mosul, saying it provides a smokescreen for civilians to escape ISIS territory.
However, when you watch video of it spraying down on densely populated zones in Mosul and Raqqa it’s hard to see how it is not burning people.
In any case, the reasons for banning incendiary weapons in civilian areas under the Protocol III of the Convention on Conventional Weapons were that they would cause fires and burn people. The law rightly doesn’t discriminate between the use of such weapons by the “good” people and the “bad” people or for “good” reasons and “bad” reasons.
A final question needs to be asked. Is it in New Zealand’s interests to have one of our soldiers in such a prominent command position in the US-led coalition, charged with defending an indefensible US policy – the use of white phosphorus in urban areas? How does that sit with our supposedly “independent foreign policy”?