Pictures and statements coming from northern Syria suggest that the U.S. coalition has used white phosphorus while battling ISIS in the city of Raqqa. Under international law, the use of such munitions in a civilian area is illegal.
Several Pictures and a number of film clips were posted on the internet that seem to show white phosphorus over what appears to be the eastern side of the city of Raqqa. The photos depict large trails of bright light over the nighttime sky, while the daytime photos show trailing streaks emanating from puffs of white smoke. These seem to indicate the use of white phosphorus in artillery munitions.
Residents of the city indicated that these attacks took place last Friday. Where did the images come from? They seem to have been distributed by the Islamic State through its news organization Aamaq. Another source of the images is a watch group called “Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently.” There have been previous times that ISIS has alleged the use of white phosphorus in attacks by the United States and others.
The use of such white phosphorus has also been used by the forces of Assad’s forces against forces in Aleppo.
Although international law allows for the use of white phosphorus under certain circumstances, the law forbids the use of such weapons in civilian areas. The United States and other Western powers claim that they only use white phosphorus to provide a cloud capable of masking troop movements. However, the use of white phosphorus over a civilian area can create an extremely hot fire, with similar effects to napalm or thermite. For this reason, international law forbids the use of white phosphorus to target a civilian area.
According to U.S. military officials, coalition forces fighting in the Middle East against ISIS carry the white phosphorus in the form of artillery munitions, but argued that the United States was not using the deadly weapon to target civilians. Colonel Ryan Dillon, who is authorized to speak on behalf of the American coalition, stated that he cannot comment on the specific use of munitions, but insisted that soldiers always considered the effects of white phosphorus on civilians before deploying these rounds. He stated: “in accordance with the law of armed conflict, white phosphorus rounds are used for screening, obscuring and marking in a way that fully considers the possible incidental effects on civilians and civilian structures.”
At this time, we do not know for sure whether the white phosphorus affected any civilian areas. However, several thousand innocent civilians still dwell in the city of Raqqa, while much of the ISIS leadership has relocated to the province of Mayadeen in Deir al-Zour. The United Nations Children’s Fund warned that more than forty thousand children may still be living inside the Syrian city. Reports from the city said that only a few local militants and some foreign volunteers remained, while most of the other ISIS fighters have since relocated.