British army’s white phosphorus habit revealed


British troops fire mortars in Kenya. Shells can contain white phosphorus. PHOTO/MOD

British soldiers on training exercises in Kenya have used white phosphorus on 15 occasions since 2017, Declassified has found.

White phosphorus can cause horrific burns to human skin and multiple organ failure, with Russia facing criticism from the UK for allegedly firing it in Ukraine this April.

The British army claims its own use of white phosphorus in Kenya, which first emerged that same month, does not breach international law.

They insist UK troops never fire it at civilian targets, saving it for illumination or smoke screening purposes.

However, Britain uses the controversial munition at Archers Post, a vast area of communal land in Kenya that is frequented by farmers, children and elephants.

The Ministry of Defence (MOD) does not draw up specific safety plans for warning Kenyan civilians that white phosphorus mortars are about to be deployed, Declassified has found.

Instead the army relies on standard safety plans for live fire exercises, claiming “white phosphorus munitions have no other defining characteristics that would change this.”

Nearby schools are briefed on the dangers of unexploded ordnance, including white phosphorus rounds, and leaflets are handed out to local villagers. 

Although British troops claim to clear firing ranges of “all persons and wildlife” prior to training exercises, no specific assessment is made of the environmental impact of firing white phosphorus in Kenya.

The new details were revealed in a Freedom of Information response from the MOD, after defence minister James Heappey MP refused to answer a parliamentary question about the scale of white phosphorus use in Kenya.

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