AFGHANISTAN: Rights group slams US cluster bomb use

January 15, 2003

US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) has issued a report on the controversial use of cluster bombs in the war on Afghanistan. The report, Fatally Flawed: Cluster Bombs and Their Use by the United States in Afghanistan, reveals that the US dropped around 1230 cluster bombs on Afghanistan between October 2001 and March 2002. The cluster bombs contained at least 248,056 deadly "bomblets".

While the HRW report, mostly based on a limited, three-and-a-half week visit to Afghanistan, states that "at least 25 civilians died and many more were injured during cluster strikes in or near populated areas", it notes that this figure does "not represent the total for the country because some deaths and injuries go unreported; furthermore, the [HRW] team focused on determining potentially disturbing patterns and incidents in the bombing rather than identifying every civilian casualty".

The report found that while the precise "dud" rate of bomblets — the number which don't explode on impact — is unknown, "even using a conservative estimate of 5% ... the cluster bombs dropped by the United States likely left more than 12,400 explosive duds that threaten civilians and require clearance. From October 2001 to November 2002, at least 127 civilians as well as two deminers were killed or injured by cluster bombs."

Fatally Flawed states that the use of cluster bombs may violate international humanitarian law. The dispersal "footprint" of the types of cluster bombs used by the US ranged from a 183-metre radius up to 458 metres. Each bomblets can injure people up to 152 metres away.

The targets of cluster bomb attacks were not limited to Taliban or al Qaeda bases. The HRW team studied three villages which had been bombed (Ainger, Ishaq Suleiman and Qala Shater were the three villages which contributed to the HRW's figure of 25 deaths). Ishaq Suleiman is the only village that was occupied by Taliban forces.

From Green Left Weekly, January 15, 2003.
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