US military confirms depleted uranium used in Syria
Last week senior Defense Department officials at CENTCOM confirmed the US military used depleted uranium ammo in Syria. On November 18 and 23, 2015, the US military struck high-value targets in Syria. Officials stressed that the ammunition was used “with guidance, that it is not common practice and has not been used since.”
CENTCOM explained the military use of such weapons was appropriate for the targets in Syria and they were protecting US interests. On Friday, the United Nations considered another resolution to address the use of depleted uranium in conflicts and to raise funds to aid poorer nations with decontamination efforts.
According to the US military, the two confirmed strikes expended 5,100 rounds of 30mm depleted uranium (DU)) fired from A-10 Thunderbolt II aircraft. CENTCOM officials also said the use of DU in Syria was in compliance with US military standards and is primarily used for destroying hard targets like tanks and vehicles.
However, anti-DU activists explained: “The ammunition is developed to destroy tanks on a conventional battlefield; Daesh (ISIS) does not possess large numbers of tanks.”
But the New York Times reported, “that 295 trucks were in the area, and more than a third of them were destroyed according to United States’ officials. The A-10s dropped two-dozen 500-pound bombs and conducted strafing runs with 30-millimeter Gatling guns. AC-130s aka “Puff the Magic Dragon” also attacked with 30-millimeter Gatling guns and 105-millimeter cannons.”
At the time of the DU strikes, America and its NATO allies had initiated a new campaign targeting ISIS in Syria code named “Tidal Wave II.” The primary goal of Tidal Wave II was to prevent ISIS from selling large volumes of oil on the black market. Lt. Gen. Sean MacFarland, who was at the helm of the international coalition’s campaign in Iraq and Syria, explained the Obama administration’s new focus was to eliminate an ISIS’ revenue stream. “This part of Tidal Wave II is designed to attack the distribution component of ISIL’s oil smuggling operation and degrade their (sic) capacity to fund their (sic) military operations,” said Colonel Steve Warren, spokesman for the Pentagon.
However, critics argue that data revealed in after-action reports confirmed the United States used A-10 aircraft with the armor-piercing incendiary ammunition (DU). A nuclear watchdog organization, the International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons (ICBUW) said in an unconfirmed report that the DU’s use is “solely as an anti-armor weapon – (but that ICBUW reports it was used) against personnel, buildings, light vehicles, and other non-armored targets, with instances of particularly intense use documented in and around densely populated areas. The use of depleted uranium against such targets contravenes the United States’ own restrictions on the use of the weapons.” It must be noted that the ICBUW account conflicts with US after-action reports that claim tanker trucks carrying pirated oil were the targets of the DU strikes, not personnel.
The United States manufactures enriched uranium by processing natural uranium in nuclear reactors; once the enriched uranium is exhausted the “depleted” uranium is manufactured into DU, which is 40 percent less radioactive than enriched uranium. The United States leads the world in the supply of depleted uranium followed closely by Russia, France, and the United Kingdom.
Truth Out explains, that “Depleted uranium is the waste product of the uranium enrichment process for nuclear power reactors and nuclear weapons. It consists of the same components as natural uranium but has differing proportions of uranium isotopes, with slightly more U238 and a reduced amount of U235, such that it has about 60 percent of the radioactivity of uranium. The United States has stockpiled an estimated 450,000 tons of DU. Thus, using it in war has become a convenient method of disposal in other countries’ environments.
These weapons have a solid rod of DU that increases their ability to penetrate heavily armored vehicles because, unlike other weapons that become blunted upon impact, DU sharpens and self-ignites. DU is now found in machine gun ammunition, warheads for tanks, cruise missiles, and air-to-ground missiles. These weapons increase the potential of detonating combustible vehicles such as tanks, destroying buildings, and penetrating concrete and steel bunkers. DU weapons and armored tanks generate concentrated radioactive pollution when they strike or are attacked.”
The anti-DU group reported, “ICBUW had earlier analyzed the target information released by CENTCOM for the two dates in question. On neither date did CENTCOM explicitly state that it had launched attacks against armored vehicles, with the majority of strikes against Islamic State light tactical vehicles, vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices and oil infrastructure. Such targets have been attacked regularly by the US-led Coalition, [sic] apparently without resorting to the use of DU.” But CENTCOM told this reporter the DU strikes were in compliance with US guidelines.
However, another concern the watchdog group points out is the contamination factor and cleanup efforts remain unaddressed and fear civilians can inadvertently come into contact with depleted uranium if the affected area is not properly cleaned.
“Given DU’s nature as a toxic and radioactive heavy metal, and concerns previously expressed by Syrian civilians that it might be used, it’s deeply worrying that the US chose to use DU again,” said PAX’s researcher Wim Zwijnenburg. PAX is an international organization that stands for peace, they work with civilians in conflict zones, like Syria, to build a just and peaceful community. “The US should provide all target data and technical assistance to mine-clearance organizations and local authorities to ensure that swift cleanup operations for this low-level radioactive waste is undertaken to prevent Syrian civilians (from) being exposed,” they concluded.
ICBUW Coordinator Doug Weir reiterates that proper clean up is difficult because there are no formal world obligations for cleanup efforts. “Managing DU contamination to internationally accepted standards is complex, time-consuming and costly. Research has repeatedly shown that most countries recovering from conflict are poorly placed to implement these vital risk reduction measures, which are recommended by UN agencies, and it is civilians who all too often pay the cost of inaction.”
In 2013 US taxpayers rose up and shut down the White House switchboard fiercely opposing US intervention in Syria. Yet, President Obama continues to press on with war efforts in the Middle East without Congressional guidance or in accordance with the War Powers Act. With the presidential election a week away, voters remain skeptical of the US-Syrian policy and wonder who will clean up the mess the past two presidents have created! #ListenToTheVoters