US broke its own rules firing depleted uranium in Iraq
The targeting data, which details the use of 30mm DU ammunition by USAF A-10 Thunderbolt II aircraft – or “Warthogs”, was released under FOIA and accounts for 54,000kg of the 118,000kg of DU ammunition that the US and UK have acknowledged firing in the conflict. Analysis by PAX and ICBUW of the 1,116 strikes, which took place during the first month of the 2003 invasion, and published in a new report Targets of Opportunity shows that DU use was widespread across Iraq.
An A-10 circles barracks over Baghdad in 2003; newly released targeting data show that the aircraft used DU against a far wider range of targets than previously acknowledged, breaching USAF legal guidelines.
For the first time, the data also reveal that the majority of targets attacked with the radioactive and chemically toxic weapons were not armoured. This runs counter to claims by the US that the A10’s ammunition is specifically for destroying tanks and other armoured vehicles. A significant number of the 182,000 30mm PGU-14/B rounds fired by the aircraft – each of which contains 298g of DU – were also fired in or near populated areas, increasing the likelihood that civilians would be exposed.
Chart from Targets of Opportunity showing the types of targets attacked by A-10s, less than half of the targets were armoured vehicles.
The need to destroy armour is central to the US’s ongoing military justification for the use of the weapons, which place civilians at risk of exposure and leave a complex and costly legacy for years after the end of conflicts. The US’s own legal guidelines, which were placed on the use of the armour-piercing incendiary weapons in 1975, restricts their use to armoured vehicles, a restriction that appears to have been ignored in the 2003 conflict.
Little transparency, even less assistance
While the UK released information to the UN on where it fired 1,900kg of DU, the US is still withholding data on where it fired 62,000kg of the weapons. This is hampering clearance work. PAX has reported that Iraq continues to struggle with the identification and remediation of DU contaminated sites, and the country has called for assistance in doing so from the international community.
“With the current burden of fighting the Islamic State, the Iraqi government’s capacity is already stretched. But people are worried about DU contamination, especially in southern Iraq,” says one of the report’s authors, PAX’s Wim Zwijnenburg. “The US did too little, too late, and now Iraq’s people are facing layer upon layer of toxic health risks as a result of the conflicts.”
“At present countries that use DU weapons, or are affected by them, are under no formal obligations to clear contamination after conflicts in order to minimise the risks it poses to civilians,” said co-author Doug Weir from ICBUW. “This is in stark contrast to land mines, cluster munitions and other explosive remnants of war. Governments must take steps to meaningfully address the legacy from DU and other toxic remnants of war that can harm civilians and their environment for years after the end of conflicts.”
New information suggests that A-10s have used DU in Syria
In early 2015, the US stated - contrary to previous claims - that its A-10 aircraft had not and would not use DU in Iraq or Syria in operations against Islamic State. However information obtained by ICBUW suggests that US A-10s have used DU on at least two occasions in Syria.
ICBUW and PAX are calling for urgent clarification from the US authorities on both the incidents and its DU policy for the conflict, and for them to swiftly release the targeting data to ensure that the relevant authorities can conduct clearance and risk awareness efforts and to isolate and recover contaminated material.
A new resolution on DU weapons will be voted on by governments at the UN General Assembly this month.
- 3454 Kb - Format pdfPAX and ICBUWTargets of Opportunity reveals for the first time the extent to which the US breached its own restrictions on the use of DU in the 2003 Iraq War. Fewer than half of all targets attacked by A10 aircraft were armoured and many were in populated areas. The report triples the number of sites known to be contaminated with DU and also analyses whether norms on data sharing and clearance of DU are emerging.
Mondelinge vraag aan minister van Defensie, Steven Vandeput, omtrenthet gebruik van verarmd uranium in Noord-Syrie18 Kb - Format pdfQuestion asked in Belgian parliament in response to allegations of DU use in Syria.