[eDebate] Regarding the Unsanctioned Use of White Phosphorous

Judson Eldredge eldredge_edebate
Tue May 19 13:54:10 CDT 2009

I was intrigued by the article posted by Strega (old) http://www.thiscantbehappening.net/?q=node/315 , and in my personal experience I have not seen a wealth of combat experience in the debate community which could help interpret the facts of this story, so I forwarded this to some people I know with more expertise in this area and asked for their reaction. One of these is the official historian of the US Army's 2nd Chemical Mortar Battalion (quoted below), an extremely well qualified source on the use of WP.  I was surprised to find the reaction was that the article on its face does not show what it claims to show, unsanctioned use of WP.
The article states:
"The soldiers detected a Taliban spotter on a ridge, which was pounded by mortars and then white phosphorus rounds... It is clear from this passage that the military?s use of the phosphorus shells had not been for the officially sanctioned purpose of providing cover... the last thing they would have wanted to do was provide the enemy spotter with a smoke cover, which would have helped him escape"
In short, I don't know what happened in Farah, but as far as the events above, witnessed by the NY times reporter, this author's interpretation is erroneous and the action does meet the definition of "providing cover". When an enemy spotter is observing your position, he is there for the express purpose of calling fire down on your position. So smoking the enemy Observation Post with WP is "providing cover" in the most classic sense. So you can debate US policy as good or bad, but it seems it would be inaccurate to assert that what this reporter saw is a violation of it. Maybe the New York Times "ignored this issue" in its report because it is based on inaccurate interpretations?
I quote (in part) reaction to this article:
"Contrary to [the author's] ignorant assumption, if you know where a 
spotter is then it's absolutely logical to fire smoke to block his 
observation. Tests show that firing on a smoked position will have about 
2/3 accuracy because they know where the location is under the smoke. 
Firing from a smoked position accuracy is under 2 percent. Smoke 
therefore shifts the odds heavily in favor of the smokers."

"The smoke is somehow interpreted to be dishonest because the troops had 
no intention of going up the ridge. Of course they had no such 
intention; that would have made them as stupid as this writer."

"The fire was resumed with 30 mm grenades which is a direct fire weapon 
not requiring a spotter. One interpretation of this -- conveniently 
ignored -- is that the spotter was clobbered along with his 
communications and to the bad guys were forced to use much lower caliber 
So, I hope no one feels the need to flame over this. I am not even trying to advance any position regarding the use of WP.  My only goal is to provide a bit of context to help interpret the facts reported by the NY Times more accurately.


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