To assist Ukraine’s military in repelling entrenched Russian forces on the front lines, the United States has chosen to send cluster munitions there.
According to people familiar with the decision who spoke on the condition of anonymity and were not authorised to speak publicly before the official announcement that it will send them as part of a new military aid package worth $800 million, the Biden administration is anticipated to announce that it will send thousands of them on Friday.
Some friends and humanitarian organisations, who have long opposed the use of cluster bombs, are likely to be outraged by the action. Some claim that Russia has already used the contentious weapon in Ukraine and that the munitions the US will give have a lower dud rate, indicating there will be fewer failures to fire.
The munitions are launched by the same artillery weapons that the US and allies have already provided to Ukraine for the war, such as howitzers, and the kind of cluster munition that the US is planning to send is based on a common 155 mm shell that is used to hit multiple targets at once.
Due to cluster munitions’ high dud rate in earlier battles, thousands of the smaller unexploded bomblets lingered behind and continued to kill and maim people decades later. The US stopped deploying its cluster munitions after its last combat usage in Iraq in 2003, as the war moved to more urban areas with dense civilian populations.
The Defence Department possesses “multiple variants” of the munitions, according to Brig Gen Pat Ryder, who stated on Thursday that “the ones that we are considering providing would not include older variants with (unexploding) rates that are higher than 2.35%.”
The US has been sending more than 2 million rounds of conventional 155 howitzer ammunition to Ukraine for more than a year. Thousands more have been donated by allies around the world. With the ability to hit distant enemies from 15 to 20 miles (24 to 32 kilometres) away, 155mm rounds are a go-to weapon for Ukrainian ground soldiers.
Thousands of rounds are being expended daily by Ukrainian soldiers engaged in combat with Russian forces. At a German Marshall Fund gathering in the US this spring, Yehor Cherniev, a member of the Ukrainian parliament, warned reporters that Kyiv would probably need to fire 7,000 to 9,000 of the rounds daily in more intense counteroffensive battle. giving those numerous
According to Ryan Brobst, a research analyst for the Foundation for Defence of Democracies, the cluster bomb is a desirable option because it would enable Ukraine to destroy more targets with fewer rounds and because the US has large quantities of them in storage that it can access quickly because it hasn’t used them in combat since the Iraq War.
The US may have up to 3 million cluster munitions available for use, according to a letter from top House and Senate Republicans to the Biden administration in March 2023. The letter encouraged the White House to dispatch the munitions to relieve pressure on US military supplies.
Because they cause damage across a larger area, “cluster munitions are more effective than unitary artillery shells,” Brobst added. As Ukraine tries to clear heavily entrenched Russian positions, this is crucial. According to Brobst, accessing the US stocks of cluster munitions might solve the shell shortfall in Ukraine and relieve pressure on the 155 mm stockpiles in the US and abroad.
Although the use of cluster bombs in and of itself does not violate international law, doing so when targeting civilians may. If a target was legitimate and efforts were taken to prevent civilian casualties, as is the case with any strike, a war crime has been committed.
Mark Hiznay, associate director for armaments at Human Rights Watch, told The Associated Press that indiscriminate assaults against people are where “this starts playing (a role) in international law.”
Therefore, the use of the weapons, not necessarily their usage, is relevant.More than 120 nations have ratified a convention that forbids the use of cluster bombs. These nations also pledged to clear the weapons after they have been deployed. The United States, Russia, and Ukraine have not joined.
The US military has used the bombs in numerous previous battles. According to HRW, the US first saw cluster bombs as a crucial component of its arsenal during the invasion of Afghanistan that started in 2001. During the first three years of the battle, the coalition led by the US is believed to have dropped more than 1,500 cluster bombs on Afghanistan.
2019 was the deadline for the Defence Department to stop using any cluster munitions that had an unexploded ordnance rate higher than 1%. However, the Trump administration reversed that decision and now allows commanders to authorise the use of such weapons.
During the civil conflict in Syria, government forces routinely attacked opposition strongholds with Russian-supplied cluster munitions, usually striking infrastructure and civilian objectives. And during the 1982 assault, Israel employed them in South Lebanon’s civilian neighbourhoods. HRW and the UN charged Israel with launching up to 4 million cluster munitions into Lebanon during the month-long conflict with Hezbollah in 2006. Unexploded weaponry that was left behind continues to endanger populations in Lebanon.
Cluster bombs have drawn criticism for the Saudi-led coalition’s deployment in Yemen’s conflict with the Houthi rebels, who are backed by Iran and responsible for the devastation of the southern Arabian nation. According to the UN, after Syria, Yemen had the second-highest death toll from cluster munitions in 2017. It is challenging to determine the true toll because children have continued to be killed or injured long after the missiles first dropped.
Cluster bombs saw extensive usage by the Russians during their decade-long invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s. Afghanistan’s countryside continues to be one of the most frequently mined nations in the world as a result of decades of war.