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Saturday, August 09, 2003
Technically, they're just as dead

Did the US use napalm in Iraq? Turns out it depends on what the definition of "napalm" is.

Officials confirm dropping firebombs on Iraqi troops American jets killed Iraqi troops with firebombs – similar to the controversial napalm used in the Vietnam War – in March and April as Marines battled toward Baghdad.

Marine Corps fighter pilots and commanders who have returned from the war zone have confirmed dropping dozens of incendiary bombs near bridges over the Saddam Canal and the Tigris River. The explosions created massive fireballs.

"We napalmed both those (bridge) approaches," said Col. James Alles in a recent interview. He commanded Marine Air Group 11, based at Miramar Marine Corps Air Station, during the war. "Unfortunately, there were people there because you could see them in the (cockpit) video.

Sure sounds like it if you listen to Col. Alles, right? Well, it turns out that that's not technically correct:
During the war, Pentagon spokesmen disputed reports that napalm was being used, saying the Pentagon's stockpile had been destroyed two years ago.

Apparently the spokesmen were drawing a distinction between the terms "firebomb" and "napalm." If reporters had asked about firebombs, officials said yesterday they would have confirmed their use.

What the Marines dropped, the spokesmen said yesterday, were "Mark 77 firebombs." They acknowledged those are incendiary devices with a function "remarkably similar" to napalm weapons.

Rather than using gasoline and benzene as the fuel, the firebombs use kerosene-based jet fuel, which has a smaller concentration of benzene.

"Napalm", you see, is a brand name for a specific mixture of gasoline, benzene, and polystyrene. The Mk 77 Mod 5 incendiary device uses jet fuel instead of gasoline. You could call it "generic Napalm", I guess. That's the way the Marines seem to refer to it. It probably doesn't matter very much to the victims, however. But let's let Col. Alles have the last word:
"The generals love napalm," said Alles, who has transferred to Washington. "It has a big psychological effect."
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