Message 231: White Phosphorus

A November 29 press conference with Donald Rumsfeld and General Pace answered questions regarding white phosphorus. Rumsfeld deferred to Pace on the matter, who answered:

White phosphorus is a legitimate tool of the military. It is used for two primary purposes. One is to mark a location for strike by an aircraft, for example. The other is to be used — because it does create white smoke — to be used as a screening agent so that you can move your forces without being seen by the enemy. It is not a chemical weapon, it is an incendiary (sic) [It is not an incendiary weapon as defined by the 1980 Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons], and it is well within the law of war to use those weapons as they are being used for marking and for screening.

Q: But you and I have both seen the results of “Willy Pete” in Vietnam. And when it’s on the skin, it doesn’t stop burning until it goes all the way through or runs out of oxygen. It’s a pretty tough weapon. Do you want to use it in urban areas such as Fallujah?

GEN. PACE: No armed force in the world goes to greater effort than your armed force to protect civilians and to be very precise in the way we apply our power. A bullet goes through skin even faster than white phosphorus does. So I would rather have the proper instrument applied at the proper time as precisely as possible to get the job done in a way that kills as many of the bad guys as possible and does as little collateral damage as possible. That is just the nature of warfare.

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