US to send cluster bombs to Ukraine despite fears they could kill civilians

The United States will supply cluster munitions to Ukraine to bolster its military in the fight against Russia, the Pentagon announced on Friday, despite concerns from human rights groups and some U.S. allies that their use would result in more civilian casualties.

President Joe Biden signed a presidential arms transfer waiver in recent days, two officials said.

Dual-Purpose Enhanced Conventional Munitions, or DPICMs, are surface-to-surface warheads that explode and scatter multiple small munitions or bombs over wide areas, resulting in more widespread destruction than single rounds. Cartridges can be charges that penetrate armored vehicles, or they can break or fragment to be more dangerous for people.

Some human rights groups oppose their use because they fear unexploded, or misfired, bombs will explode after battle, potentially injuring or killing innocent civilians.

But White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said the munitions were essential for Ukraine to continue its military operations against the Russian invaders.

“We will not leave Ukraine defenseless at any time in this conflict, period,” he said.

Sullivan noted that US cluster munitions have a much lower misfire rate than those used by the Russians, and Ukraine assured that it would use the weapons cautiously to minimize risk to civilians.

“These are their citizens, these are the Ukrainians, whom they are trying to protect and defend,” Sullivan added. “It’s not Ukraine taking them and using them in the Middle East, Southeast Asia or some faraway country. They’re using them on their territory to defend their territory.”

The remains of artillery and missile shells, including cluster munitions in Toretsk, Ukraine on December 18, 2022. (File Pierre Crom/Getty Images)

The remains of artillery and missile shells, including cluster munitions in Toretsk, Ukraine on December 18, 2022. (File Pierre Crom/Getty Images)

Colin Kahl, the undersecretary of defense for policy, said Ukraine had promised to register where it uses the shells, not to fire them in civilian and urban areas and to launch mine clearance operations afterward. the war.

At an unrelated White House event, Biden gave a brief response when asked why he agreed to send the weapons to Ukraine now.

“They’re out of ammunition,” he said.

Ukraine has been asking the United States for DPICMs since last year, but the idea has met with resistance due to an international treaty that prohibits the transfer, use and stockpiling of the weapon.

The United States, Ukraine and Russia are not signatories to the treaty, called the Convention on Cluster Munitions, but US law requires the president to sign a waiver before exporting cluster munitions with a misfire rate greater than 1%. The DPICMs that the United States would provide would have a misfire rate of 1.3% to 2.35%.

The United States has a stockpile of about 10,000 cluster munitions in Europe that could be shipped to Ukraine almost immediately, officials said.

NBC News reported last week that the Biden administration is leaning towards supplying the weapons to Ukraine.

The United States developed cluster munitions during the Cold War and then stockpiled large numbers of them, many of which are now nearing the end of their useful life. Last week, a bipartisan group of members of Congress sent a letter asking the Biden administration to unleash the “vast untapped arsenal” in Ukraine.

Image: (File Mohammad Zaatari / AP)

Image: (File Mohammad Zaatari / AP)

DPICMs can be fired from artillery systems that the United States has already supplied to Ukraine.

Worldwide, civilians accounted for 97% of all cluster munition casualties, according to a report released in August by the Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor, a campaign group working to eradicate their use. Children made up 66% of all victims when the age group was known, according to the report.

Their use by both sides was documented during the war in Ukraine, according to Human Rights Watch, an international nongovernmental organization. It’s unclear how many people the ordnance killed or how much of an area might have been affected, but Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said in April that more than 67,000 square miles of the country had been destroyed by unexploded ordnance.

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