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UK Ministry of Defence ponders coalition depleted uranium policy in fight with ISIS

The UK MoD is being uncharacteristically slow in responding to parliamentarians questioning UK policy on DU use in joint operations in Iraq and Syria.
25 October 2014 - ICBUW

The news that the US has sent A10 gunships to the Middle East, presumably to take part in combat operations against ISIS at some point has raised fears of the renewed use of DU in Iraq. That Iraq has recently called for help at the United Nations in clearing up historic contamination from 1991 and 2003, and for a global treaty ban on the weapons, has led parliamentarians in a number of coalition partner countries to quiz their governments on their policy on DU use in joint operations.

The situation is reminiscent of 2011’s Operation Unified Protector in Libya when MPs in the UKBelgium and the Netherlands sought clarification on whether they would urge the US not to use DU. The standard combat load for the A10 gunship’s cannon is a mixture of 30mm DU and high explosive incendiary (HEI) ammunition. However, A10s have and do operate with only HEI ammunition, so the US does have a choice over whether it deploys DU.

Katy Clark MP (Lab) wrote to: ‘ask the Secretary of State for Defence, what discussions he has had with his US counterparts about the use by other forces of depleted uranium in Iraq or Syria.’ Meanwhile Zac Goldsmith MP (Con) wrote to: ‘ask the Secretary of State for Defence, what his policy is on the use of depleted uranium by UK armed forces operating in Iraq and Syria.’

In both cases, MoD minister Mark Francois MP responded with the same holding answer: ‘The Ministry of Defence has indicated that it will not be possible to answer this question within the usual time period. An answer is being prepared and will be provided as soon as it is available.’

While the UK MoD is renowned for the glacial pace with which it responds to Freedom of Information requests, it is rare for them not have a vague or unsatisfactory answer prepared for parliamentary questions on DU.

It may be too much to hope for that the UK MoD will conclude that endorsing the use of DU in a country that has called for a global ban on the weapons breaches even their sense of acceptable conduct. Perhaps more pragmatically, they will conclude that, thanks to the concern associated with the civilian impact of the use of DU weapons, which is particularly acute in the region, the renewed use of DU in Iraq and its use in Syria would be a propaganda coup for ISIS.

The UK is expected to vote against a fifth UN General Assembly resolution on DU weapons early next month. Together with the US, France and Israel the UK is one of only four states who do so.