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US to Supply Cluster Munitions to Ukraine in New Military Aid Package, Sources Say

by Ethan Kim
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cluster munitions

The Biden administration has made the decision to provide cluster munitions to Ukraine and is expected to announce on Friday that the Pentagon will send thousands of them as part of a new military aid package worth up to $800 million for the ongoing war effort against Russia, according to sources familiar with the matter.

Despite widespread concerns regarding the potential civilian casualties caused by these controversial bombs, the Pentagon plans to supply munitions with a reduced “dud rate,” aiming to minimize the number of unexploded rounds that could inadvertently harm civilians.

Officials stated on Thursday that the announcement of military aid to Ukraine would be made on Friday.

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Cluster bombs, which Ukraine has long sought, are weapons that deploy submunitions or “bomblets” over a wide area, intended to inflict damage on multiple targets simultaneously.

The individuals familiar with the decision, who are not authorized to discuss the matter publicly before the official announcement, shared this information on the condition of anonymity.

Ukrainian officials have requested these weapons to assist in their campaign to break through Russian troop lines and make progress in their ongoing counteroffensive. It has been reported that Russian forces are already utilizing cluster munitions on the battlefield and in populated civilian areas.

According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, some cluster munitions contain “bomblets” that have a high failure rate to explode, reaching up to 40% in some cases. However, US officials stated on Thursday that the unexploded ordnance rate for the munitions being supplied to Ukraine is less than 3%, significantly reducing the threats left behind for civilians.

During a Pentagon briefing on Thursday, Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder mentioned that there was no announcement to be made regarding cluster munitions. He did confirm that the Defense Department possesses various versions of these munitions, and the ones under consideration for Ukraine would not include older variants with higher unexploded rates exceeding 2.35%.

Ryder refrained from disclosing whether Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin had engaged with NATO counterparts to address concerns regarding the use of cluster munitions. He acknowledged awareness of reports suggesting that certain munitions have higher rates of unexploded ordnance.

If the decision to provide Ukraine with these munitions is made, Ryder explained that the US would carefully select rounds with lower dud rates, supported by recent testing data.

When asked how cluster munitions, if approved, would aid Ukraine, Ryder stated they can be loaded with specific charges capable of penetrating armor or fragmentary munitions effective against multiple personnel. He noted that this capability would be useful in offensive operations of any kind, especially considering that Russian cluster munitions have a significantly higher dud rate.

Oleksandra Ustinova, a member of Ukraine’s parliament advocating for increased weapons support from Washington, emphasized that Ukrainian forces have had to disable mines across the territories they are reclaiming from Russia. Ustinova believes that having this capability would be beneficial, as Ukrainians can also identify and neutralize any unexploded ordnance from cluster munitions.

She credited Congress for pressuring the administration over several months to change its stance on providing the munitions.

Rep. Michael McCaul, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, expressed that the move was long overdue and urged the US and its allies to supply Ukraine with the necessary systems, including cluster munitions, F-16s, and ATACMS, to support their critical counteroffensive. He warned that any further delay would result in the loss of countless Ukrainian lives and prolong the brutal war.

The Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS), if provided, would grant Ukraine the capability to strike Russian targets from distances of up to approximately 180 miles (300 kilometers).

Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recently mentioned that the US had been considering providing cluster munitions for a long time. He highlighted Ukraine’s request, the support of other European countries in supplying these munitions, and the Russian use of them as factors in the decision-making process.

Cluster bombs can be fired from the artillery systems already provided to Ukraine by the US, as the Pentagon maintains a substantial stockpile of such munitions.

According to the Pentagon, the last significant deployment of cluster bombs by the US occurred during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. However, during the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, US forces considered them a crucial weapon, as reported by Human Rights Watch. Throughout the first three years of that conflict, the US-led coalition dropped over 1,500 cluster bombs in Afghanistan.

Critics advocating for a ban on cluster bombs argue that they cause indiscriminate casualties and endanger civilians long after their use. Concerns have been raised about Russia’s utilization of these munitions in Ukraine.

Over 120 countries have joined a convention that prohibits the use, production, transfer, or stockpiling of cluster bombs, as well as mandates their clearance after deployment. The United States, Russia, and Ukraine are among the countries that have not signed this convention.

It remains uncertain how America’s NATO allies would perceive the US providing cluster bombs to Ukraine and whether this issue could create divisions within their largely unified support of Kyiv. More than two-thirds of the alliance’s 30 member countries have signed the 2010 convention on cluster munitions.

This report includes contributions from AP Diplomatic Writer Matthew Lee and Big Big News writer Tara Copp.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about cluster munitions

Q: Why is the US providing cluster munitions to Ukraine?

A: The US is providing cluster munitions to Ukraine as part of a new military aid package worth up to $800 million. This aid is intended to support Ukraine’s ongoing war effort against Russia and help them push through Russian troop lines during their counteroffensive.

Q: What are cluster munitions?

A: Cluster munitions are weapons that release submunitions or “bomblets” in the air. These bomblets are dispersed over a large area and are designed to cause destruction to multiple targets simultaneously.

Q: Are there concerns about civilian casualties?

A: Yes, there are widespread concerns about civilian casualties caused by cluster munitions. However, the US officials claim that the provided munitions will have a reduced “dud rate,” meaning there will be fewer unexploded rounds that could harm civilians unintentionally.

Q: Are cluster munitions banned internationally?

A: While there is a convention banning the use, production, transfer, and stockpiling of cluster munitions, it is important to note that the United States, Russia, and Ukraine are among the countries that have not signed this convention.

Q: How will the US ensure the safety of civilians?

A: The US officials state that the munitions being provided to Ukraine have a low rate of unexploded ordnance (less than 3%), significantly reducing the threats to civilians. They also claim to carefully select rounds with lower dud rates based on recent testing data.

Q: What is the stance of NATO allies on this issue?

A: It is unclear how America’s NATO allies would view the US providing cluster munitions to Ukraine. While the majority of NATO member countries have signed the convention on cluster munitions, the issue may potentially create divisions within their support for Ukraine.

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1 comment

User123 July 8, 2023 - 12:13 am

wow, so the us is givin cluster munitns 2 ukrane? dont they no they cause civilian casulties?? seems rly dangerous nd irresponsbl!!

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