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The United States military has admitted it used napalm-type weapons in Iraq.
A Pentagon spokesman had told the Herald it did not have any stocks of napalm, but it seems the denial was a quibble.
The Pentagon no longer officially uses the brand-name Napalm, a combination of naphthalene and palmitate, but a similar substance known as fuel-gel mixture contained in Mark-77 fire bombs was dropped on Iraqi troops near the Iraq-Kuwait border at the start of the recent war.
"I can confirm that Mark-77 fire bombs were used in that general area," said Colonel Mike Daily, of the US Marine Corps.
Colonel Daily said that US stocks of Vietnam-era napalm had been phased out, but that the Mark-77s had "similar destructive characteristics".
On March 22 a Herald correspondent, Lindsay Murdoch, travelling with US marines, reported that napalm was used in an attack on Iraqi troops at Safwan Hill, near the Kuwait border.
His account was based on statements by two US marines officers on the ground. But Lieutenant-Commander Jeff Davis, from the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Defence, called Murdoch's story "patently false". "The US took napalm out of service in the 1970s. We completed the destruction of our last batch of napalm on April 4, 2001, and no longer maintain any stocks of napalm," Commander Davis said.
He was apparently referring to Vietnam-era Napalm-B, which consisted of inflammable fuel thickened with polystyrene and benzene. The inflammable fuel in Mark-77 fire bombs is thickened with slightly different chemicals, and is believed to contain oxidisers.
Neither weapon technically contains napalm
A Pentagon official told Agence France-Presse on Thursday that US forces used the Mark-77 fire bombs against Iraqi forces in their drive towards Baghdad and defended their use as legal and necessary.
The official, who did not wish to be identified, said that US marines jets dropped the fire bombs at least once to destroy Iraqi positions at Safwan.
The official told AFP: "It is like this: you've got [an] enemy that's hard to get at. And it will save your own lives to use it." There were no international conventions against it, the official said.
Marines used the napalm-like bombs on at least two other occasions during the drive to Baghdad, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported this week.
"The generals love napalm," the paper quoted Colonel Randolph Alles, the commander of Marine Air Group 11, as saying. "It has a big psychological effect."
Napalm was banned by a United Nations convention in 1980, but the US did not sign the agreement. The US military considers the use of Mark-77 weapons to be legal.
A spokeswoman for Rock Island Arsenal in Illinois said it was producing a further 500 Mark-77s for the marines. She said she did not consider them napalm bombs, but they are still referred to as napalm in some US documents.
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