US Confirms It Used Depleted Uranium in Syria
The US and its allies have many times attacked Russia for alleged «indiscriminate bombing» in support of the Syrian government, including cluster bombs. The accusations have been denied and never proven. Now the US military has confirmed it misinformed the public about its use of munitions in Syria which cause harm to civilians.
The US military has admitted using depleted uranium (DU) anti-tank rounds on two occasions in 2015 during devastating air strikes against convoys of Islamic State (IS) tanker trucks. Investigative reporter Samuel Oakford first brought up the use of DU ammunition by the coalition in October 2016. There have been questions raised ever since.
According to US Central Command spokesman Major Josh Jacques, a total of 5,265 depleted uranium rounds were fired in combination with other incendiary rounds in 2015. The US may use the munitions again. As the official put it, «We will continue to look at all options during operational planning to defeat ISIS, this includes DU rounds».
Earlier statements maintained that the coalition would not do so. In 2015, the US military Operation Inherent Resolve spokesman John Moore said that US and coalition aircraft have not been and will not be using depleted uranium munitions in Iraq or Syria during Operation Inherent Resolve. Now one can see the statements were not true.
Depleted uranium is the byproduct of the enriched uranium needed to power nuclear reactors. It is roughly 0.7 times as radioactive as natural uranium, and its high density makes it ideal for armor-piercing rounds such as the PGU-14 and certain tank shells.
The depleted uranium munitions are known for their enhanced armor-piercing capabilities. They have been criticized for posing health risks to soldiers who fire them and to civilian populations. Some scientists and Iraqi physicians blame depleted uranium weapons used by US forces for a major increase in cancer cases and birth defects in Iraq. The munitions have been suspected to be a possible cause of «Gulf War syndrome», the name given to a collection of debilitating maladies suffered by veterans of the 1990-91 Gulf War and the US invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Numerous studies affirm the use of the munitions in Iraq negatively affected the health of civilian population causing cancer and birth defects. When it was used during the 1999 NATO bombing campaign in Kosovo, the United Nations advised that children stay away from the impact zones. Recently published data from the 2003 Iraq War showed that A-10 attack aircraft used more DU against targets that were not tanks or armoured vehicles, questioning the current US justification that DU was needed in Syria. Historic data from the Gulf War also demonstrated that most armoured targets destroyed by A-10s were targeted by Maverick missiles, not DU munitions.
The UN Environment Program has conducted studies and clean-ups of areas affected by use of the munitions in conflicts in the former Yugoslavia and Iraq. It has described them as «chemically and radiologically toxic heavy metal». In 2014, a United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency report on depleted-uranium munitions said that direct contact with larger amounts of depleted uranium through the handling of scrap metal, for instance, could «result in exposures of radiological significance».
A University of Southern Maine study discovered that depleted uranium causes widespread damage to DNA, which could lead to lung cancer, according to a study of the metal’s effects on human lung cells. «Given the international opprobrium associated with the use of depleted uranium, we had been pretty astonished to hear that it had been used in operations in Syria», Doug Weir, the International Coordinator for the Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons, told the Washington Post on February 16.
There is no international treaty or rule that explicitly bans the munitions’ use. Internationally, DU exists in a legal gray area. In 2012, 155 states have supported a resolution calling for a precautionary approach to depleted uranium weapons during voting at the UN General Assembly. Just four countries – the US, UK, France and Israel – voted against and 27 abstained. The resolution was informed by the UN Environment’s Program’s (UNEP) repeated calls for a precautionary approach to the use and post-conflict management of the controversial weapons. The passage of this fourth General Assembly resolution is a further challenge to the use of radioactive and chemically toxic conventional weapons that can lead to environmental contamination and humanitarian harm.
It is worth mentioning that the US has a long history of using the weapons of mass destruction (WMD) banned by international law. In 2013, Amnesty International said US drone strikes could be classified as war crimes. It is broadly believed the global use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in such countries as Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Iraq, Somalia and Libya, constitutes a violation of international law.
Obviously, the US UAV warfare violates Article 51 of the UN Charter that defines the rules of self-defense because America is not attacked. International law limits self-defense against prospective threats to ones which are «imminent». The employed signature tactics are inherently in violation of the principle of distinction because it fails to identify civilian or militant. Drone attacks run against the principle of proportionality concerning unintentional civilian casualties in war. They violate Article 2 of the Geneva Convention (IV) Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War by disregarding the human rights of the innocent civilians killed in the strikes. Furthermore, the US UAV tactics conflict with International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which prohibits «arbitrary» killing even during an armed conflict. The US is not a signatory to the International Criminal Court (ICC) or many other international legal forums where legal action might be started. It is, however, part of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) where cases can be initiated by one state against another. Conducting drone strikes in a country against its will, like in Syria, for instance, could be seen as an act of war.
So, it’s double standards again while the acts of war continue. Their justice, legality and necessity are questioned but somehow their issues don’t hit headlines of US media, while Russia does. The US blaming Russia for «indiscriminate bombing», the use of cluster bombs and other misdeeds in Syria is like the pot calling the kettle black.