The US military has denied claims that it used white phosphorous during recent fighting with Taliban militants in Afghanistan and blamed the Taliban for exploiting civilian casualties.

The Taliban alleges that Afghan civilians were wounded after US forces used the chemical during fighting in the 4 May battle in Farah province.

US Defence Secretary Robert Gates has refuted the claims and dispatched an official to conduct an enquiry with the Afghan Ministries of Defence and Interior.

Gates said that exploiting civilian casualties through strategic communications was a principle strategic tactic of the Taliban.

“There is a tremendous effort going on our part to try and avoid civilian casualties. But figuring out how to come out better on the strategic communications side of this is an ongoing challenge for us,” Gates said.

As senior US defence official said that while it is US military policy to employ white phosphorous for illumination, marking targets or destroying buildings, the military is ordered to abstain from using it against people.

The claims rise from news reports, where doctors allegedly voiced concern over unusual burns on Afghan villagers following the battle.

US military officials in Afghanistan have also declassified a report of 38 events in which insurgents have used or stockpiled white phosphorus munitions in the Regional Command East area of operations that includes Farah.

White phosphorous is highly toxic and can cause burns, bone damage and death resulting from exposure.