A New Zealand general has confirmed that the US-led coalition fighting in Mosul has used munitions loaded with white phosphorus. It comes amid mounting criticism over the use of the multipurpose weapon, which can be extremely dangerous to civilians.

Over the past few weeks an increasing number of claims have pointed to the use of white phosphorus munitions by the US-led coalition in Mosul, Iraq and Raqqa, Syria – the two strongholds of the terrorist group Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL). The use of the weapons in Mosul was confirmed by New Zealand’s Brig. Gen. Hugh McAslan.

“We have utilized white phosphorous to screen areas within west Mosul to get civilians out safely,” he told the US broadcaster NRP, in what appears to be the first confirmation of its kind. Previously the coalition reported using white phosphorous munitions in rural areas of Iraq, but not in densely populated cities.

The confirmation comes as Human Rights Watch (HRW) criticized the coalition on Wednesday for deploying the controversial type of munitions in the fight against IS.

“No matter how white phosphorus is used, it poses a high risk of horrific and long-lasting harm in crowded cities like Raqqa and Mosul and any other areas with concentrations of civilians,” said Steve Goose, arms director at HRW.

“US-led forces should take all feasible precautions to minimize civilian harm when using white phosphorus in Iraq and Syria.”

White phosphorus burns when it comes into contact with oxygen, producing high-temperature heat and characteristic white smoke. Munitions with the chemical can be used as incendiary weapons, to lay down smoke screens or as signals.

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