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Sydney Morning Herald reports US use of Napalm.(16 posts)

Sydney Morning Herald reports US use of Napalm.czardonic
Mar 21, 2003 1:19 PM
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 U.S. Navy aircraft, which dropped 40,000 pounds of explosives and napalm, a U.S. officer told the Herald.

A legal expert at the International Committee of the Red Cross in Geneva said the use of napalm or fuel air bombs was not illegal "per se" because the United States was not a signatory to the 1980 weapons convention that prohibits and restricts certain weapons. "But the United States has to apply the basic principles of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and take all precautions to protect civilians. In the case of napalm and fuel air bombs, these are special precautions because these are area weapons, not specific weapons," said Dominique Loye, the committee's advisor on weapons and IHL." (
Mar 21, 2003 1:52 PM
A number of newspapers have published all kinds of dubious claims over the last couple of weeks, most of which were not confirmed (recall the "why is CNN not reporting that the war has started? thread). I'm not saying that I don't trust the SMH, but until a major international [not necessarily American] news agency reports the use of napalm, I'm inclined not to believe it.
Why should that be a surprise?cory
Mar 21, 2003 2:20 PM
I'm pretty much a pacifist, and definitely opposed to this war. But I'm also a Vietnam vet and I've seen napalm in use. The stuff WORKS--I know we have it in the arsenal, and it does what it does better than anything else. Why (especially if you believe we've started an illegal and unjustified war) would we NOT use it?
Understand that I'm not arguing in favor of it. I'm just surprised that anybody thinks we wouldn't.
OK, try this: Assassination illegal, but huge explosions OK?cory
Mar 21, 2003 2:26 PM
How come it's all right to toss missiles at a city from 200 miles away, but it's against the rules to send one person in to stab a foreign leader in the heart? And where should a sniper ("One shot, one kill") fall on the scale of legality?
It seems to be neither.czardonic
Mar 21, 2003 2:42 PM
Note that the United States officially disavows assassination of foreign leaders, but the first thing they did in this war was do exactly that with several criuse missles. In effect and assassination by huge explosions.

Strictly speaking, it is a bit silly to draw a distinction between obliteration and immolation. Yet, those lines are drawn, probably more on emotional lines than any practical distinction.

This whole war is predicated on the notion that Iraq has weapons that the world has decided are simply to horrific to allow. Yet, our prosecution of the war seems to include the use of weapons that others have seen fit to ban.

Its interesting, but not necessarily sinister.
doesn't make senseDougSloan
Mar 21, 2003 2:48 PM
I agree it doesn't make sense. Didn't Reagan start that policy by executive order? (Maybe there is a dictator exception?)

UN Resolutions 678 and 1441 might authorize, though -- "all available means" was the mandate.

doesn't make senseBuzzlitespeed
Mar 22, 2003 8:24 PM
I think it was President Ford or maybe Carter. I believe that executive order had more to do with avoiding all the embarrassing failed plots revealed by the Church Committee than any real more moral problems with assassination. Because it's an executive order the President can still authorize exceptions.

I'd advise being very suspicious of any description of military equipment/operations by the media. They're notorious for being extremely ignorant about such things
OK, try this: Assassination illegal, but huge explosions OK?cory
Mar 21, 2003 2:55 PM
How come it's all right to toss missiles at a city from 200 miles away, but it's against the rules to send one person in to stab a foreign leader in the heart? And where should a sniper ("One shot, one kill") fall on the scale of legality?
This is worse than that.jesse1
Mar 22, 2003 4:49 AM
This morning on MSNBC, they reported that a newspaper in Pakistan reported that the U.S. had "dropped ATOMIC BOMBS on Bagdad!" You know there are some that will believe that.
and ate their children live! nmDougSloan
Mar 22, 2003 6:15 AM
We no longer have napalm.sn69
Mar 22, 2003 10:17 AM
The last stock piles of the junk were disposed of in '97. The Herald is spot-off, so to speak. What's more, the Navy hasn't stocked napalm on board ship since '68.

FAE--fuel air explosives--are much different. We used them in the first gulf war and, more recently, used them in Afghanistan. Tactically, it's the only reliable method to clear trenches and/or caved bunkers. If you'd like to learn more about FAE, the best unclassified discussion is available at the Federation of American Scientists' website. It's not a napalm-like device. Rather, it causes an intense overpressure that is damaging enough to collapse hardened bunkers and shatter lightly armored vehicles.
Reason? Political or practical?czardonic
Mar 22, 2003 11:58 AM
I can see why the reasons it was effective in Vietnam wouldn't necessarily apply to the desert. But other than that, do you know why it is no longer used?
Both really.sn69
Mar 22, 2003 7:46 PM
Politically, napalm was always as much a horror/shock weapon as it was an area mass casualty weapon. In terms of the latter, it was designed to drop on a large area of concealed troops to kill, wound or otherwise disrupt their ability to defend their positions. Thank the Kaiser for it...napalm derivatives were one of his developments in WW1 that were desinged to break the stalemate in the Belgian trench lines (along with chemical munitions). Later, it was used with great effect against heavily trenched/bunkered Japanese troops during Nimitz's island hopping campaign and again in Vietnam, where dense foliage supplanted trenches and bunker. That said (explained), napalm is horribly difficult to work with and is very unstable. The munitions in which it is stored suffer vastly accelerated corrosion rates and don't have much shelf-life. Thus the problems that DOD had ridding itself of the last of the stockpile in '97. They were stored at Naval Weapons Station Fallbrook, Ca., and it proved to be very troublesome to get the cr@p transported cross-state to suitably equipped disposal facilities that would be safe and compliant with EPA regs.

In terms of the former, this is where I'll have to ask you to take a leap of faith. Frankly I don't think much if any of our national command elements (presidents + advisors) who have authorized the use of napalm have ever cared a great deal about it. For the folks who employ the stuff, however, it's horrible. The leap of faith.... This is where I'll have to ask you to recognize that there are things that those of us in the service abhore more than others, and napalm fits the bill. It leaves people wounded in horrific ways, and not even the most hardened battlefield veteran could walk away from that degree of carnage unscathed. Additionally, we have a post 60s history of going to extraordinary lengths to treat the injuries of enemy forces with the same degree of care as we give to our own. A napalm survivor is a charcoal briquette, suffering 3rd degree burns anywhere they were exposed to the stuff. That's not good, not by any measure of decency (not even to the enemy).

FAE, on the other hand, is a gasoline derived airial bomb. In essense a vaporized cloud of gasoline is dispersed above ground level and then ignitors are fired into it. The ensuing thermobaric explosion creates an overpressure/shockwave not unlike that of a nuclear (not "new-cu-ler") blast. These things collapse bunkers, seal caves and pop light armored vehicles. You can just imagine what they do to a human. Still, people don't survive a FAE attack. It goes boom, and targetted bad guys die. There's no living nightmare death of 3rd degree burns. That sounds absurd, I know, but I think you get the point.

Oh, and I think it's also worth mentioning the misconceptions about depleted uranium. In some reports and once on Oprah (yes...I was watching the Chris Rock eposide), I've heard reports about all of the depleted uranium bomb fragments littering the Iraqi desert. Here's the truth. DU was developed in the 1970s as a tactic to counter vastly superior Soviet tanks that would, had the gig ever gone down, have streamed across the German frontier in overwhelming numbers with better armor and bigger guns than our M48 and M60 main battle tanks. Thus, we developed DU main cannon rounds for our tanks' smaller 105mm guns and for the GAU-9 30mm cannon mounted in the then-new A-10. The rounds were radiologically inactive for all intents and purposes, but the uranium was incredibly dense and, coupled with carefully engineered velocities, could penetrate the Soviet tanks. The material, however, was not the radiological bugaboo we've been lead to believe. In truth, it's about as hot as copper berrylium used frequently in airliners, trains and other industrial applications. If you ingest the sh!t in large enough quantities, assuming that the metal itself doesn't kill you, then you will eventually develop low
Mar 22, 2003 7:48 PM
If you ingest the sh!t in large enough quantities, assuming that the metal itself doesn't kill you, then you will eventually develop low-grade cellular damage over the course of a lifetime. By way of comparison, the arsenic in the groundwater in Nevada and the mercury in the fish caught in San Fransico Bay are much more harmful. Furthermore, the rounds neither shatter nor spall, and then come to rest wherever as a singular piece in most instances, even after punching through a T-72 or T-80 tank. The rumors we've heard of vast fields of DU debris littering the Iraqi desert are highly exaggerated. Again, during my two deployments in support of Southern Watch, I saw HUGE (I mean enormous) amounts of unexploded ordinance from both sides still littering the Kuwaiti desert and DMZ as late as 97. In fact, one of the frequent support missions I flew was to take EOD personnel to areas that the Beduoine wanted to move to in order to ensure their lands were clean. However, the DU stuff was harmless...providing of course, one didn't eat it with one's Wheaties or use it as a suppository. The lake-sized puddles of petrochemical goo from the burned oil wells were far more toxic.
3 late additionsn69
Mar 22, 2003 8:29 PM
One other thing of significant but probably unnoticed importance.... Specifically, note that the lights are still on in Baghdad and the water is still running. Hell, you can even see street lights working in the live feed.

That's unprecedented. I'm not a targeteer--we left that to a specially trained cadre of intel weenies in my last air wing--still, there is a fairly standard priority assigned to urban targets per joint doctrine. Typically, power sources, water conduits and roadways are schwacked right away in order to deny the enemy his own societal infrastructure. Notice that's not happening.

Political, oddly altruistic, doesn't matter. The point is that we haven't knocked out those facilities related to quality of life of the citizens of Baghdad.

Even more the accuracy of these weapons is astounding. Laser guided bombs have been around since mid-way through Vietnam, but particulate matter in the atmosphere serves to refract and propagate the illuminating beams, which in turn leads to inaccuracy. These new JDAMs (2nd generation...we were only just starting to get the first ones when I got sent to my "career broadening" staff tour hell), are primarily guided by GPS and backed up by lasers. Accuracy is, quite literally, measured in inches. That's incredible.

Somebody--gtx I think--asked about the significance of moon phase. Here's the scoop. We prosecute most missions at night now that all of our troops (air, ground and sea) are equipped with night vision devices. NVDs, in turn, require some explanation too. Again, these have been around since Vietnam, but they have really come into their own in terms of compact, rugged ease of use in the past 8 years or so. Even still, NVDs only amplify existing light. Thus, a moonlit night is quite bright on NVDs whereas a starlight night is dim. Visual accuity is roughly 20/40 at best, there is no depth perception, one's field of view is limited to about 80 degrees. If there is particulate matter (dust, snow, debris, smoke) or precipitation in the air, the goggles are rendered useless. Likewise, certain light conditions exceed their capabilities (thick overcast + starlight).

Tactics dictate that missions are planned to take advantage of conditions condusive to our use of NVDs in order to prosecute missions, particularly airborne strikes or airborne special ops missions (what I used to do). Still, first and second generation NVDs are easily bought on the open market now, and those are good enough to suitably equip an enemy for use on high light (moon) nights. Last night was the first night that the moon entered a phase low enough to deny the use of those NVDs to the enemy. IOW, it was too dark for them, but just right for us. Thus, the air war kicked off in full force when nature provided the correct conditions.

Even still, there are certain flight parameters that are really difficult on goggles, particularly unprepared LZ landings in desert brown out conditions. The flight/landing profile required to safely get a helo on the deck requires a form of a self-contained instrument approach to a controlled crash landing. It's a hoot, but it's also an art. Even with high light conditions on Tuesday night, it's still no wonder that one MH-53 and one AH-64 made hard landings.
Makes sense. Thanks for the info. (nm)czardonic
Mar 24, 2003 11:15 AM