Biden decision on Ukrainian cluster munitions provokes backlash from Democrats

WASHINGTON — Several congressional Democrats on Friday expressed frustration with the Biden administration over its decision to send cluster munitions to Ukraine as part of the upcoming U.S. military aid package.

Lawmakers echoed warnings from human rights groups that surface-to-surface warheads, which scatter small munitions or bombs over large areas, can explode after battle and sometimes injure or kill innocent people .

“Cluster munitions are illegal under international law,” Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., said in a statement announcing that she plans to introduce an amendment with Rep. Sara Jacobs, D-Calif. . ban the sale of cluster munitions.

“We can support the Ukrainian people in their struggle for freedom, while opposing violations of international law,” Omar said, noting that the ammunition is banned in more than 100 countries.

Jacobs announced her opposition to the ammunition transfer in a statement Thursday, saying she was “disappointed and alarmed” by the upcoming decision.

The Pentagon announced the planned transfer of ammunition, along with other weapons, on Friday afternoon.

Ukraine has been asking for the ammunition since last year when Russia invaded. The United States hopes these weapons will help Ukraine fill its military stockpiles, particularly the 155mm artillery round, two US officials told NBC News.

Rep. Chrissy Houlahan, D-Pa., who served in the Air Force, said in a statement Friday that while she was a proponent of providing resources and weapons systems to the U.S. ally, Victory in Ukraine “cannot come at the expense of our American values ​​and therefore democracy itself.”

“Cluster munitions are indiscriminate, and I strongly oppose the supply of these weapons to Ukraine,” she continued. “History not only remembers who wins a war, but also how a war is won.”

Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., who has been outspoken on U.S. military issues for years, said Thursday she was “alarmed” by the administration’s decision.

“Cluster bombs work by scattering tiny ‘bomblets’ over a wide area. Many of these bombs do not explode, but remain a threat to civilians for decades,” she said. tweeted. “The Ukrainian people are engaged in a just struggle for their rights, freedom and humanity. The United States and Ukraine need not stoop to Putin’s level.

In a statement Friday, Representative Jim McGovern of Massachusetts said President Joe Biden should “listen to our NATO allies,” noting that “the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Spain… oppose the shipment of cluster munitions to Ukraine for the same reasons.”

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday about criticism from Democratic lawmakers.

Biden signed a presidential arms transfer waiver in recent days, two officials said. US law requires the president to sign a waiver before exporting cluster munitions with a misfire rate greater than 1%. Misfires are the small, unexploded bombs that may result from the use of ammunition.

Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., said in a statement that the administration’s decision was an “unnecessary and terrible mistake.”

“Congress has been clear in prohibiting the transfer of any cluster munition with a misfire rate greater than 1%,” she said. “Allowing old American cluster munitions on the battlefield in Ukraine undermines our moral authority and puts the United States in a position that directly contradicts 23 of our NATO allies who joined the Convention on Weapons cluster munitions.

Asked by a reporter on Friday afternoon why he decided to send the cluster munitions to Ukraine now, Biden said, “They’re running out of ammunition.”

Many Republicans in Congress applauded Biden’s decision.

In a joint statement GOP leaders of the House and Senate Foreign Affairs Committees, top Republicans on those panels said the munitions “will help fill a key gap for the Ukrainian military” and allow Ukrainian forces “to target and eliminate Russian forces more effectively”.

Some Republican lawmakers have denounced Biden’s decision, however, but not for the same reasons as their fellow Democrats.

“Instead of focusing on a peaceful solution, Biden is sending us into World War III,” tweeted Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Arizona.

Republicans, both on and off Capitol Hill, have been widely divided over US involvement in Ukraine. Many conservatives have argued that billions of dollars in aid to Ukraine would be better spent at home, or that the focus should be on China rather than Russia.

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