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US Military

Incendiary Weapons

Project: US Military
Open-Content project managed by Derek, mtuck

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1942: US Army Develops Napalm

The US Army Chemical Warfare Service, working with a Harvard University team of researchers led by Dr. Louis Fieser, develop napalm (naphthenic palmitic acids), a flammable, gasoline-based incendiary weapon. Early napalm is made by mixing the aluminum soap powder of naphthene and palmitate (naphthenic and palmitic acids) with gasoline. [New England Chemists Journal, n.d. pdf file; Limqueco and Weiss, 1971; Remes, 2000] A later formula, referred to as “Napalm-B,” uses 46 percent polystyrene, 33 percent gasoline and 21 percent benzene. The US uses the weapon in all of its major conflicts. The incendiary weapon produces a fiery explosion that sometimes hits temperatures of more than 5,000 degrees. It sucks oxygen out of the air and can kill people who are not burned to death by asphyxiation. [San Francisco Chronicle, 4/1/2001; Sydney Morning Herald, 8/8/2003]

Entity Tags: Paul Harkins

Category Tags: Incendiary Weapons

During the Vietnam war, the US uses a total of 373,000 tons of napalm. [St. Petersburg Times, 12/3/2000; Boston Globe, 5/1/2001] One ton of napalm alone is enough to burn a football field in seconds. [BBC, 4/24/2001] The use of napalm in Vietnam is widespread and is a favorite weapon of the US military command. General Paul Harkins says it “really puts the fear of God into the Vietcong—and that is what counts.” [Hilsman, 1967] Pilots are given authority to use the weapon without prior authorization if the original target is inaccessible. [Herring, 1986, pp. 10] Entire villages are destroyed by napalm bombs. [Deans, n.d.]

Timeline Tags: US-Vietnam (1947-2001)

Category Tags: Other WMDs, Incendiary Weapons, Key Events

Dow Chemical, and other companies like United Aircraft Corp. (which produced it for a shorter period of time), produce napalm for the US Army. [Business Week, 2/10/1969; San Francisco Chronicle, 4/1/2001]

Entity Tags: United Aircraft Corp, Dow Chemical

Category Tags: Incendiary Weapons

In Geneva, Protocol III (Protocol on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Incendiary Weapons) of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons is adopted on October 10, 1980, making it illegal to use incendiary weapons on civilian populations and restricting the use of these weapons against military targets that are located within a concentration of civilians. Such weapons are considered “to be excessively injurious or to have indiscriminate effects.” 51 countries initially sign the document and on December 2, 1983, its provisions are entered into force. By the end of 2004, 104 countries sign and 97 ratify the protocol. [Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons Protocol III, 10/10/1980; United Nations, 11/19/2004] The US is not a party to this protocol and continues to use incendiary weapons in all its major conflicts. It is the only country to do so. [Independent, 8/10/2003]

Category Tags: Incendiary Weapons, Key Events

Rock Island Arsenal in Illinois produces 500 Mark-77 firebombs for the US Marines. [Sydney Morning Herald, 8/9/2003] Mark-77 firebombs are a more advanced and perfected design (see 1963-1973) of the napalm bombs that were used during Vietnam (see August 2003).

Entity Tags: Rock Island Arsenal

Category Tags: Incendiary Weapons

The United States admits to using Mark 77 firebombs, an incendiary weapon that has virtually the same effect as napalm (see 1942), in Iraq. The weapon is so similar in fact that troops commonly refer to it as napalm. [CNN, 3/21/2003; Sydney Morning Herald, 3/22/2003] In August 2003, Marine Colonel Mark Daly will confirm that Mark 77 bombs were dropped by Marine jets around the Kuwait-Iraq border at the start of the war. A senior Pentagon official confirms that the bombs have “similar destructive characteristics” to napalm. Early reports of “napalm” being used in an attack on Iraqi troops at Safwan Hill, near the Kuwait border, by an Australian journalist were denied by US officials, who claimed that the military destroyed its last batch of napalm in April 2001. However, only the Vietnam-era Napalm-B was actually destroyed. [Sunday Mirror, 8/10/2003] According to Marine Colonel Randolph Alles, “The generals love napalm—it has a big psychological effect.” [San Diego Union-Tribune, 8/5/2003] A Pentagon official says: “It is like this: you’ve got an enemy that’s hard to get at. And it will save your own lives to use it.” The Mark 77 is loaded with 44 pounds of gelling compound and 63 gallons of jet fuel. The use of incendiary weapons on civilian populations is banned by Protocol III of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (see October 10, 1980-December 2, 1983), which also restricts the use of these weapons against military targets that are located within a concentration of civilians. The UN’s ban, passed in 1980, has never been signed by the US. [Sunday Mirror, 8/10/2003]

Entity Tags: Mark Daly, Randolph Alles, United Nations, US Department of Defense

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

Category Tags: Other WMDs, Incendiary Weapons, Key Events

The US Air Force website emphatically denies the use of napalm in Iraq (see March 22, 2003), posting a “disinformation alert” on its website. “The claims that we are using napalm in Iraq are patently false,” the alert claims. It also says that the United States’ stock of napalm bombs was destroyed in 2001 and that the Sydney Morning Herald has said it will be pulling its story (see March 22, 2003), which it never does. [US Department of Defense, 3/22/2003]

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

Category Tags: Incendiary Weapons

CNN and the Sydney Morning Herald report that the US used napalm to destroy an Iraqi intelligence gathering operation on top of Safwan Hill in southern Iraq. A source tells reporter Lindsay Murdoch that US Navy aircraft dropped 40,000 pounds of explosives and napalm (see 1942). However, a US Navy spokesman in Washington, Lieutenant Commander Danny Hernandez, denies that napalm was used in the attack. Hernandez claims that it is not even in the military’s arsenal. [CNN, 3/21/2003; Sydney Morning Herald, 3/22/2003] It is later learned (see August 2003) that the actual weapons were Mark 77 Firebombs, an incendiary weapon that has virtually the same effect as napalm.

Entity Tags: Danny Hernandez

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

Category Tags: Incendiary Weapons

The US says it is using Mark-77 firebombs in Iraq. Mark-77s are incendiary weapons that have a “remarkably similar” effect to that of napalm. The main difference between the two weapons is that Mark-77 firebombs use kerosene-based jet fuel whereas napalm used gasoline. The newer firebombs are also said to be more difficult to extinguish but to have less of an impact on the environment. [San Diego Union-Tribune, 8/5/2003; Agence France-Presse, 8/8/2003] But critics say the difference is minute. Technically, the name, “napalm,” refers to the combination of naphthalene and palmitate which was used only in the very earliest versions of such bombs (see 1942). Later firebombs, such as the napalm used in Vietnam, was made from polystyrene instead. Yet these bombs continued to be referred to as napalm, or “Napalm-B.” Therefore critics say that by substituting jet fuel for gasoline, the military had just developed a more advanced napalm bomb. John Pike, director of the military studies group GlobalSecurity.Org, explains: “You can call it something other than napalm but it is still napalm. It has been reformulated in the sense that they now use a different petroleum distillate, but that is it.” [Sydney Morning Herald, 8/8/2003; Sydney Morning Herald, 8/9/2003; Independent, 8/10/2003]

Entity Tags: John Pike

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

Category Tags: Incendiary Weapons

Darrin Mortenson, a reporter for a local San Diego newspaper who is embedded with an artillery unit during Operation Vigilant Resolve in Fallujah, reports that white phosphorus is being used against human targets. Mortenson describes how mortar team leader Corporal Nicholas Bogert, after receiving a fire mission over the radio, “directed his men to fire round after round of high explosives and white phosphorus charges into the city Friday and Saturday [April 9 and 10], never knowing what the targets were or what damage the resulting explosions caused.” The shells were fired “into a cluster of buildings where insurgents have been spotted all week,” the reporter writes, adding that “[e]very day since they started firing rounds into the city, other Marines have stopped by the mortar pit to take a turn dropping mortars into the tube and firing at some unseen target.” [North County Times, 4/10/2004] In a November 2004 email to the Independent, the reporter writes: “During the fight I was describing in my article, WP mortar rounds were used to create a fire in a palm grove and a cluster of concrete buildings that were used as cover by Iraqi snipers and teams that fired heavy machine guns at US choppers.” [Independent, 11/15/2005]

Entity Tags: Nicholas Bogert

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

Category Tags: Incendiary Weapons, Combat Actions and Events

US forces use white phosphorus (WP) gas munitions as incendiary weapons against human targets during their seige of Fallujah, Iraq (see November 8, 2004). [Inter Press Service, 11/26/2003; Daily Telegraph, 11/9/2004; San Francisco Chronicle, 11/10/2004; Rainews24 (Italy), 11/2005] White phosphorus—also known as Willy Pete or Whiskey Pete—is used by the military for signaling, screening, and incendiary purposes. White phosphorus munitions, upon explosion, distribute particles over a wide swath of area. They burn spontaneously in the air and will continue to burn until all white phosphorus particles have disappeared. The smoke easily penetrates clothing and protective gear and can burn a person’s flesh to the bone. [Democracy Now!, 11/8/2005; GlobalSecurity (.org), 11/9/2005] According to Jeff Englehart, a US soldier involved in the seige of Fallujah, “Phosphorus burns bodies, in fact it melts the flesh all the way down to the bone.… Phosphorus explodes and forms a cloud. Anyone within a radius of 150 meters is done for.” [Independent, 11/8/2004]
Iraqi Witnesses Allege Use of Incendiary Weapons - “Poisonous gases have been used in Fallujah,” 35-year-old trader from Fallujah Abu Hammad tells reporter Dahr Jamail. “They used everything—tanks, artillery, infantry, poison gas. Fallujah has been bombed to the ground.” Another resident, Abu Sabah, from the Julan area, explains: “They used these weird bombs that put up smoke like a mushroom cloud. Then small pieces fall from the air with long tails of smoke behind them.” He says the pieces then explode into large fires that burn the skin even when water is applied. “People suffered so much from these,” he adds. [Inter Press Service, 11/26/2003] Corroborating their accounts, the San Francisco Chronicle reports that some “Insurgents reported being attacked with a substance that melted their skin, a reaction consistent with white phosphorous burns.” Kamal Hadeethi, a physician at a regional hospital, tells the newspaper, “The corpses of the mujahedeen which we received were burned, and some corpses were melted.” [San Francisco Chronicle, 11/10/2004]
Alternate Explanation - Lieutenant Colonel Steve Boylan, in November 2005, will deny that US troops used white phosphorus gas against people in Fallujah. “I know of no cases where people were deliberately targeted by the use of white phosphorus,” he tells Democracy Now. “White phosphorus is used for obscuration, which white phosphorus produces a heavy thick smoke to shield us or them from view so that they cannot see what we are doing. It is used to destroy equipment, to destroy buildings. That is what white phosphorus shells are used for.” He insists that the pictures showing melted corpses with clothing still intact is not proof of white phosphorus attacks. “That can happen from numerous ways and not just from white phosphorus attacks. That can happen from massive explosions. If you look at the car bombs that the terrorists use today, you have the same effects from car bombs from suicide vests. I have personally witnessed these things here in Baghdad.” [Democracy Now!, 11/8/2005]
Pentagon Confirms Use of White Phosphorus against 'Enemy Combatants' - The Pentagon, however, does not deny that the weapon was used against human targets. On November 14, 2005, spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Barry Venables says that white phosphorus was used to “fire at the enemy.” He adds: “It burns.… It’s an incendiary weapon. That is what it does.” [Independent, 11/15/2005] “It was used as an incendiary weapon against enemy combatants.” [BBC, 11/16/2005]
Against US Army Policy - In 1980, the Convention on Conventional Weapons banned the use of incendiary devices, like white phosphorous, in heavily populated areas. The United States was one of the few countries that refused to sign the agreement (see October 10, 1980-December 2, 1983). Even so, an instruction manual used by the US Army Command and General Staff School (CGSC) at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas states that “it is against the law of land warfare to employ WP against personnel targets.” [Independent, 11/19/2005]
First-Hand Accounts - There are a number of first-hand accounts of the battle, as well as video footage and photographs, suggesting the use of white phosphorus against human targets.
bullet Jeff Englehart, who is in a tactical attack center about 200 meters from where a lot of the explosions that are happening [Democracy Now!, 11/8/2005] , later recalls: “I heard the order to pay attention because they were going to use white phosphorus on Fallujah. In military jargon it’s known as Willy Pete.… I saw the burned bodies of women and children.” [Rainews24 (Italy), 11/2005]
bullet Photographs provided by the Studies Centre of Human Rights in Fallujah [Rainews24 (Italy), 11/2005] include numerous high-quality, color close-ups of bodies of Fallujah residents, some still in their beds, whose clothes remain largely intact but whose skin has been dissolved or caramelized by the shells. [Independent, 11/8/2004]
bullet A documentary, titled Fallujah: The Hidden Massacre, broadcast on Italian news channel RAI a year after the assault shows helicopters launching white phosphorus munitions directly into the city. [Rainews24 (Italy), 11/2005] According to the RAI film, the US has attempted to destroy filmed evidence of the alleged use of white phosphorus on civilians in Falluja. [Rainews24 (Italy), 11/2005; BBC, 11/8/2005]
bullet A March 2005 US Army report written by three US artillery men who participated in the siege will confirm that white phosphorus was used against human targets during the siege. “WP proved to be an effective and versatile munition. We used it for screening missions at two breeches and, later in the fight, as a potent psychological weapon against the insurgents in trench lines and spider holes when we could not get effects on them with HE [High Explosive weapons]. We fired ‘shake and bake’ missions at the insurgents, using WP to flush them out and HE to take them out.” [Field Artillery, 3/2005 pdf file; Independent, 11/15/2005]

Entity Tags: Steve Boylan, Abu Sabah, Abu Hammad, United States

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

Category Tags: Key Events, Incendiary Weapons, Combat Actions and Events

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