US admits it used napalm bombs in Iraq
By Andrew Buncombe in Washington
10 August 2003
American pilots dropped the controversial incendiary agent napalm on Iraqi troops during the advance on Baghdad. The attacks caused massive fireballs that obliterated several Iraqi positions.
..The Pentagon denied using napalm at the time, but Marine pilots and their commanders have confirmed that they used an upgraded version of the weapon against dug-in positions. They said napalm, which has a distinctive smell, was used because of its psychological effect on an enemy.
.A 1980 UN convention banned the use against civilian targets of napalm, a terrifying mixture of jet fuel and polystyrene that sticks to skin as it burns. The US, which did not sign the treaty, is one of the few countries that makesuse of the weapon. It was employed notoriously against both civilian and military targets in the Vietnam war
The upgraded weapon, which uses kerosene rather than petrol, was used in March and April, when dozens of napalm bombs were dropped near bridges over the Saddam Canal and the Tigris river, south of Baghdad
"We napalmed both those [bridge] approaches," said Colonel James Alles, commander of Marine Air Group 11. "Unfortunately there were people there ... you could see them in the [cockpit] video. They were Iraqi soldiers. It's no great way to die. The generals love napalm. It has a big psychological effect."
A reporter from the Sydney Morning Herald who witnessed another napalm attack on 21 March on an Iraqi observation post at SafwanHill, close to the Kuwaiti border, wrote the following day: "Safwan Hill went up in a huge fireball and the observation post was obliterated. 'I pity anyone who is in there,' a Marine sergeant said. 'We told them to surrender.'"At the time, the Pentagon insisted the report was untrue. "We completed destruction of our last batch of napalm on 4 April, 2001," it said.
The revelation that napalm was used in the war against Iraq, while the Pentagon denied it, has outraged opponents of the war.
"Most of the world understands that napalm and incendiaries are a horrible, horrible weapon," said Robert Musil, director of the organisation Physicians for Social Responsibility. "It takes up an awful lot of medical resources. It creates horrible wounds." Mr Musil said denial of its use "fits a pattern of deception [by the US administration]".
The Pentagon said it had not tried to deceive. It drew a distinction between traditional napalm, first invented in 1942, and the weapons dropped in Iraq, which it calls Mark 77 firebombs. They weigh 510lbs, and consist of 44lbs of polystyrene-like gel and 63 gallons of jet fuel.
Officials said that if journalists had asked about the firebombs their use would have been confirmed. A spokesman admitted they were "remarkably similar" to napalm but said they caused less environmental damage.
But John Pike, director of the military studies group GlobalSecurity.Org, said: "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. The US is the only country that has used napalm for a long time. I am not aware of any other country that uses it." Marines returning from Iraq chose to call the firebombs "napalm".
Mr Musil said the Pentagon's effort to draw a distinction between the weapons was outrageous. He said: "It's Orwellian. They do not want the public to know. It's a lie."
In an interview with the San Diego Union-Tribune, Marine Corps Maj-Gen Jim Amos confirmed that napalm was used on several occasions in the war.
(Napalm bombs burned out 40% of the area of Japanese target cities in the World War.
The safer napalm is known as "napalm-B", super-napalm, or NP2, and it uses no napalm at all! Instead, polystyrene and benzene are used as a solvent to solidify the gasoline. Napalm B has a huge advantage over the original napalm its ignition can be well controlled. This was a great advantage to soldiers using it as there were many accidents with soldiers smoking around napalm often resulting in damage to ones own army. )
There are a number of different forms of napalm B. One of these types of napalm is Fallbrook napalm. It is a mixture of 46 parts polystyrene (a polymer of styrene C6H6CH2=CH2, a short chain of the polymer is illustrated below), 33 parts gasoline and 21 parts benzene.
'Dead bodies are everywhere'
Herald Correspondent Lindsay Murdoch, travelling with a Marines artillery unit, reports on one of the war's first battles on the Iraq-Kuwait border.
There was little initial resistance as the United States Marines swept into southern Iraq early yesterday. One of the first encounters of the ground war was more like a massacre than a fight.
The Iraqi gunners fired first, soon after United States President George Bush announced the attack on Saddam Hussein was under way.
It was a fatal mistake.
The Iraqi artillery unit, preparing for the American invasion, had tested the range by firing registering shots at a likely spot where the American tanks would cross from Kuwait. US radar picked up the incoming shells and pinpointed their source.
Within hours, the Iraqi gunners and their Russian-made 122mm howitzers were destroyed as the Americans unleashed an artillery barrage that shook the ground and lit up the night sky."Dead bodies are everywhere," a US officer reported by radio.
Later in the day, the American firepower was turned on Safwan Hill, an Iraqi military observation post a couple of kilometres across the border. About six hours after US marines and their 155mm howitzer guns pulled up at the border, they opened up with a deafening barrage. Safwan Hill went up in a huge fireball and the Iraqi observation post was obliterated.
,"I pity anybody who's in there," a marine sergeant said. "We told them to surrender."
The destruction of Safwan Hill was a priority because it had sophisticated surveillance equipment near the main highway that runs from Kuwait up to Basra and then Baghdad. The attacking forces could not attempt to cross the border unless it was destroyed.
Marine Cobra helicopter gunships firing Hellfire missiles swept in low from the south. Then the marine howitzers, with a range of 30 kilometres, opened a sustained barrage over the next eight hours. They were supported by US Navy aircraft which dropped 40,000 pounds of explosives and napalm, a US officer told the Herald. But a navy spokesman in Washington, Lieutenant Commander Danny Hernandez, denied that napalm - which was banned by a United Nations convention in 1980 - was used.
"We don't even have that in our arsenal," he said.
.The navy admitted to using napalm as late as 1993 in training exercises on the island of Vieques in Puerto Rico, but the last cannister of a vast US naval stockpile was reportedly destroyed in a public ceremony in April 2001.
When dawn broke on Safwan Hill, all that could be seen on top of it was a single antenna amid the smoke. The marines then moved forward, their officers saying they were determined to push on as quickly as possible for Baghdad.
The first air strike on Baghdad, and Mr Bush's announcement that the war was under way, appeared to catch US officers in the Kuwait desert by surprise. The attack was originally planned for early today. But the US officers did not seem worried.
Within hours of Mr Bush's announcement, a vast army of tanks, trucks, bulldozers and heavy guns was surging to positions on Iraq's border.
Despite the early indications that Iraqi forces were showing little resistance, some US Marine units halted 200 metres inside Iraqi territory last night as they came under fire from anti-tank missiles and rifles. They called in artillery to deal with the threat.
The Pentagon subsequently issued a statement to the Herald:
Your story ('Dead bodies everywhere', by Lindsay Murdoch, March 22, 2003) claiming US forces are using napalm in Iraq, is patently false. The US took napalm out of service in the early 1970s. We completed destruction of our last batch of napalm on April 4, 2001, and no longer maintain any stocks of napalm. - Jeff A. Davis, Lieutenant Commander, US Navy, Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense.