Jump to content
  • Sign Up

U.S.-Led Forces Said to Have Used White Phosphorus in Syria

Recommended Posts

Images and reports from witnesses in the northern Syrian city of Raqqa suggest that the United States-led coalition battling the Islamic State there has used munitions loaded with white phosphorus, the use of which in populated areas is prohibited under international law.

Photographs and video clips posted online showed blinding spots of light spreading outward on Thursday night over what residents said was eastern Raqqa. By day, the images showed low white puffs trailing tentacles of white smoke. Both are typical visual signatures of white phosphorus, which can be loaded into artillery shells.

Residents reached by text message reported similar bombardments on Friday.

The images were distributed by the Aamaq news agency of the Islamic State, as well as a monitoring group called Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently. The Islamic State has made claims of use of white phosphorous by United States-led forces before as part of its efforts to discredit its enemies.

White phosphorus, along with other incendiaries, has been used by Syrian government forces battling insurgents in Aleppo and elsewhere.

It is not illegal under international law for militaries to possess and use white phosphorus, and the United States’ and other Western militaries say they use it mainly to create smoke screens to hide troop movements. But it can also be used as an incendiary weapon, setting very hot fires. And like thermite and napalm, it is proscribed in civilian areas by international law.

A United States official acknowledged that American forces who are fighting the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, in Iraq and Syria have access to white phosphorus munitions, but he said it was not being used against personnel. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the use of the munition.

The spokesman for the American-led task force that is fighting the militants, Col. Ryan Dillon, said that as a matter of policy he could not discuss the use of specific munitions. But he added that “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.”

It has not been determined whether the shells that appeared to contain white phosphorus landed in populated areas, but tens of thousands of civilians are believed to still be in Raqqa, even as many Islamic State leaders have fled south to Mayadeen in Deir al-Zour Province. Unicef, the United Nations Children’s Fund, warned that 40,000 children are believed to be trapped in the city.

Residents said that most of the Islamic State fighters left in Raqqa were local recruits, along with some foreign fighters, and that the most experienced commanders and fighters having decamped.


Abdullah, a Raqqa resident living in Beirut, said his relatives had seen what they believed was white phosphorus being used in the city. He also said that an internet cafe had recently been hit by missiles, killing around 20 people who were trying to reach relatives for possibly the last time after the Islamic State threatened to shut down all internet providers.

One of those killed in the cafe was an activist sending a report to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, according to the group’s founder, Rami Abdulrahman.

The Islamic State has become increasingly restrictive about sharing information with the outside world, so residents spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.

The assault on Raqqa is being carried out by the Syrian Democratic Forces, made up of Syrian-Kurdish and Syrian-Arab militias that are receiving arms, training and air support from the United States and its anti-Islamic State coalition.

Residents say they have received contradictory instructions from the coalition’s recent leaflet drops, with the latest urging them to shelter in place after earlier warnings to leave the city.

Doctors Without Borders issued a statement warning that civilians faced dangers, whether staying or trying to flee.




Newly released videos appear to show US-led coalition bombers using white phosphorus-loaded munitions in densely-populated areas in Syria and Iraq.

White phosphorus is an incendiary and toxic chemical substance. The munitions filled with the substance create a thick white cloud when they explode. Upon contact with flesh, the substance can maim and kill by burning to the bone. Human rights groups warn against the use of the substance.

Raqqah is Being Slaughtered Silently (RBSS), a group of citizen journalists who document abuses in the Daesh stronghold of Raqqah, posted footage online showing the signature spread of airburst white phosphorus — probably from M825 series 155-milimeter artillery rounds — while exploding over the Syrian city’s eastern part.

Similar videos were also published online, appearing to show the use of white phosphorus bombs by the US-led coalition warplanes in the Iraqi city of Mosul as well.

Mary Wareham, the advocacy director at Human Rights Watch’s arms division, said the organization was trying to determine the veracity of the videos.



Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

Your content will need to be approved by a moderator

You are commenting as a guest. If you have an account, please sign in.
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Restore formatting

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.


Important Information

We have placed cookies on your device to help make this website better. You can adjust your cookie settings, otherwise we'll assume you're okay to continue.