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Page last updated at 21:28 GMT, Monday, 11 May 2009 22:28 UK

Taleban 'used white phosphorus'

US marines fire a white phosphorous mortar bomb towards a Taleban position in Helmand province, 3 April 2009
The US military says its only uses white phosphorous within legal bounds

The US military says it has evidence that insurgents in Afghanistan have illegally used white phosphorus ammunition to attack its forces.

A military spokesman, Col Greg Julian, said at least 44 incidents of Taleban militants using or storing the weapons had been documented.

White phosphorus is allowed in battle to illuminate targets.

But it causes severe chemical burns on flesh and cannot legally be used as a weapon against people.

A senior doctor, Dr Mohammad Aref Jalali, suggested the chemical might have been used in recent clashes in Farah province between US-led forces and Taleban militants.

The US has strongly denied using white phosphorous in Farah province and the spokesman accused the insurgents of blatantly violating the laws of war.

'Unusual' burns

"The insurgents possess and use white phosphorus as a weapon against people," said Col Julian.

"It's a law of war that we adhere to but the insurgents blatantly violate."

Dr Jalali, head of the burns unit at the Herat Regional Hospital, said they had treated a number of people injured in the clashes in Farah who had what he called unusual burns.

The burns appeared to have been caused by a chemical used in a bomb: "The presence of phosphorus is not confirmed, but I see it as probability. I cannot rule out the possibility. It is possible that such bombs may have been used."

The Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission said on Sunday it was investigating whether white phosphorus was used in Farah either by the US or the Taleban.



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