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http://www.guardian.co.uk/waronterror/story/0,1361,568278,00.html

US deploys controversial weapon

B-52s scour country for troop convoys to attack


Richard Norton-Taylor

Friday October 12, 2001

The Guardian



United States aircraft are dropping cluster bombs on Afghanistan for the first time as pilots begin to look for moving targets, including armoured vehicles and troop convoys.

The weapons - which scatter about 150 small "bomblets" over a large area and whose use has been condemned by the Red Cross and other hu manitarian agencies - can be dropped by B-52 bombers.

B-52 bombers engaged in air strikes on Afghanistan are based on the British Indian Ocean territory of Diego Garcia.

"The prime focus was garrisons, bivouac areas, maintenance sites, troop-type facilities," a US defence official said yesterday. The official described the latest round of round-the-clock bombing as "substantial". US officials hope the cluster bomb attacks on troops may persuade some Taliban commanders to change sides.

The attacks involved about 10 B-52 and B-1 bombers, which took off from Diego Garcia. The Pentagon said they dropped "area munitions," including CBU-89 Gators, which are 1,000-pound cluster bombs.

The Red Cross last year called for a ban on cluster bombs.

In a report sent to the UN it said some 30,000 unexploded bomblets remained in Kosovo after the conflict ended. They are estimated to have caused up to 150 casualties, including the death of two Gurkha soldiers.

"Unlike anti-personnel mines, incidents involving these sub-munitions usually result in death or injury to several people as a result of their greater explosive power," the Red Cross said.

Cluster bombs are used to cover a broad area rather than a single specific target. The bomblets, or "sub-munitions", contain higher explosive than landmines and their normally brightly-coloured casings make them attractive to children.

An internal Ministry of Defence report estimated that 60% of the 531 cluster bombs dropped by the RAF during the conflict in Kosovo missed their in tended target or remain unaccounted for. Cluster bombs were dropped from medium and high altitudes during the Kosovo conflict despite official US assessments after the 1991 Gulf war that they were likely to miss their targets.

On average, between 5% and 12% of the bomblets fail to explode, according to UN estimates.

In its report on the lessons from Kosovo, the MoD last year described cluster bombs as "an effective weapon against area targets such as a group of soft-skinned military vehicles".

It added: "Nevertheless, we have learned that it would be useful to have a capability to strike single vehicles more accurately."


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