Pentagon calls off plan to ban use of cluster bombs

A man covers windows in a building which was damaged by shelling in Donetsk

A man covers windows in a building which was damaged by shelling in Donetsk

Human Rights Watch disputed the idea that the USA military needed the weapons, saying that with the exception of a single strike in Yemen in 2009 it had not used the weapons since 2003 in Iraq. The US military considers them an important weapon.

Mary Wareham, arms division director for Human Rights Watch, also spoke up against the new policy.

Crossen told The Hill that there is no cluster munition now on the market that meets that standard, despite the postponement on the ban.

While the new policy removes the automatic ban on the older version of the munition, Crosson said "the new policy remains committed to the same end-state of the 2008 policy: acquiring safer and more reliable weapons that ensure both effectiveness on the battlefield and minimal risk of noncombatant and friendly casualties".

The Bank of America building is shown in Los Angeles California
REUTERS Mike Blake Global Financial Giants Fund Deadly Cluster Bomb Production

Pentagon spokesman Tom Crosson acknowledged it has been years since the US military has used any significant amount of cluster munitions and the new Pentagon policy puts emphasis on eventually shifting to safer cluster munitions.

However, critics say they kill indiscriminately and pose hazards to civilians. That can lead to civilian deaths and injuries long after conflicts end, APA reports quoting Reuters. The new policy embraced by the Trump administration says that "cluster munitions are legitimate weapons with clear military utility", and that they may result in less unintended harm to civilians, according to Stars and Stripes. Instead, commanders are allowed to authorize using "sufficient quantities" of the bombs if deemed necessary.

She was referring to Vietnam war-era U.S. bombing that left millions of unexploded cluster bomblets in Laos.

"Safer" means meeting the 1 per cent failure standard or developing bombs equipped with a self-destruct mechanism or that can be rendered inoperable in 15 minutes or less by the exhaustion of their power source.

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The policy does not define what qualifies as "sufficient quantities" of safer weapons, and it sets no new deadline.

"A decade ago, the Pentagon announced that by 2018 it would no longer use cluster munitions with a failure rate exceeding one percent". The Pentagon says its last large-scale use was in the 2003 Iraq invasion.

In a memorandum signed Thursday, Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said the United States remains committed to fielding weapons that are effective in war and that "minimize unintended harm" to civilians and United States and partner forces.

Still, it was unclear at what point in the future the Pentagon might be required to stop using its existing stockpiles, since there would also need to be not just higher-tech weaponry, but sufficient quantities of new cluster munitions for US stocks.

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"The Department of Defense has determined that cluster munitions remain a vital military capability in the tougher war-fighting environment ahead of us, while still a relatively safe one", said the statement on Thursday, Xinhua news agency reported.

In 2016, the Obama administration halted its transfer of cluster munitions to Saudi Arabia, after rights groups condemned use of indiscriminate weapons in Yemen. Dianne Feinstein of California and Patrick Leahy of Vermont introduced a bill that would have banned funding for cluster bombs that do not meet a 1% unexploded ordnance standard.

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