Afghanistan: McKiernan out; white phosphorus charges fly

The US announced May 11 the replacement of its commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David McKiernan, with Lt.-Gen. Stanley McChrystal, a former chief of Pentagon special operations forces. “Our mission there requires new thinking and new approaches from our military leaders,” said Defense Secretary Robert Gates. (AlJazeera, May 11)

Meanwhile, the joint US-Afghan team investigating the recent report of civilian causalities in the eastern province of Farah will also look into the possible use of chemical weapons, a spokesperson of UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said. Afghan officials say over 147 civilians were killed in the air-strike, while the US military says that the number is exaggerated. Provincial authorities in Farah say doctors came forward after the air-strikes to report that survivors had “unusual” burns which could be caused by white phosphorus.

Afghan president Hamid Karzai has called for an end to air raids in the aftermath of the incident. Afghanistan’s Wolesi Jirga, the lower house of parliament, also demanded that restrictions be placed on foreign forces to avoid further civilian casualties before recessing in protest of the recent air-strikes. Wolesi Jirga secretary Abdul Sattar Khawaasi said that parliament has given the government one week to come up with a plan to regulate US and other foreign troops. (Xinhua, Daily Mail, Jurist, May 11)

The US military counter-charged May 11 that it has documented 44 incidents of Afghan insurgents using or possessing white phosphorus. US and NATO forces acknowledge they use the chemical—which erupts into flame on contact with the air—to create smokescreens, illuminate the battlefield or destroy empty buildings as allowed by international law, but deny they knowingly using it on people.

US military spokesman Colonel Greg Julian said: “The insurgents possess and use white phosphorus as a weapon against people. It’s a law of war that we adhere to but the insurgents blatantly violate.” The list of 44 incidents published by the military included only 11 cases in which insurgents actually fired white phosphorus rounds, and none in which anyone was reported to have been injured or killed.

Reuters reported last week that US military doctors had confirmed they had treated an 8-year-old girl in Kapisa province, identified only as Razia, with white phosphorus burns. Her case was not on the list released by the military. The girl’s father told Reuters their house was hit by a volley of artillery fired by coalition forces on March 14. The US and NATO deny this claim. Human Rights Watch is urging the US military to release more details of the incident. (WP, May 11; HRW via RAWA, May 8)

See our last posts on Afghanistan and US atrocities and civilian casualties.

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