Air Weapons: March 9, 2002


Human rights groups have been forced to admit that the US use of cluster bombs in Afghanistan was considerably more restrained and better targeted than they had feared. These groups have long complained that the widespread use of such weapons in Iraq in 1991 has led to 2,500 civilian casualties as a result of people, years later, stepping on or handling cluster bomblets than failed to explode when originally dropped. Each US cluster bomb has 202 bomblets, which it scatters over an area larger than a football field. The result is devastating to enemy infantry, as the bomblets scatter fragments at high speed across the area. The US officially estimates that about a dozen bomblets from each cluster fail to explode, and they then act as anti-personnel land mines (a type of weapon that human rights groups abhor). The 6 percent "dud rate" is caused by manufacturing defects, the vagaries of landing (some do not fall in a way that trips their detonator), and by landing on soft ground (mud or snow). The UN and some human rights groups have, based on anecdotal evidence, estimated the dud rate at 20% or more. The US has given the UN a list of 188 sites hit by cluster bombs, and a survey of these sites found only one of them (near Kabul) close to a civilian area. Press reports indicate that this particular site was quickly occupied by US special forces who kept civilians away. The sites include 49 around Herat, 38 around Kandahar, 20 near Kabul, 18 around Kunduz, 16 around the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, 11 near Jalalabad, 10 around Taloqan, 8 at Khodaydad Kalay, 6 around Khvajeh Ghar, 4 around Bagram air base, 3 near Gardez, 2 around the Tora Bora cave complex, 2 around Khanabad, and one near Maimana. --Stephen V Cole




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