Pen­tagon: Used de­pleted-ura­nium rounds in ISIS raids

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NATIONAL - THOMAS GIB­BONS-NEFF

Months after the Pen­tagon said it wouldn’t use a type of ar­mor-pierc­ing am­mu­ni­tion that has been blamed for long-term health com­pli­ca­tions, U.S. air­craft fired thou­sands of the rounds dur­ing two high- pro­file air raids in Syria in Novem­ber 2015, the Pen­tagon ac­knowl­edged Wed­nes­day.

The use of the am­mu­ni­tion, a 30mm de­pleted-ura­nium bul­let called PGU-14, was first re­ported by a joint Air Wars-For­eign Pol­icy in­ves­ti­ga­tion Tues­day. The 5,265 rounds of the mu­ni­tion were fired from mul­ti­ple A-10 ground at­tack air­craft on Nov. 16, 2015, and Nov. 22, 2015, in airstrikes in Syria’s eastern desert that tar­geted the Is­lamic State group’s oil sup­ply dur­ing Op­er­a­tion Tidal Wave II, said Maj. Josh Jac­ques, a U.S. Cen­tral Com­mand spokesman.

The strikes, which in­volved 30mm PGU-14 can­non fire, rock­ets and guided bombs, de­stroyed more than 300 ve­hi­cles, mostly civil­ian tanker trucks, the Pen­tagon said at the time. The two in­stances were cham­pi­oned by the Pen­tagon, and footage of trucks be­ing de­stroyed were posted on­line.

The Pen­tagon said no civil­ians were present dur­ing the bom­bard­ment be­cause fliers had been dropped be­fore straf­ing runs warn­ing those in their trucks to flee.

Be­fore the Novem­ber strikes, the Pen­tagon said it would not use de­pleted-ura­nium mu­ni­tions in the cam­paign against the Is­lamic State, which also is known as ISIS. In re­sponse to a query from a re­porter in February 2015, Capt. John Moore, a spokesman for the U.S.-led anti-Is­lamic State coali­tion in Iraq and Syria said in an email that “U.S. and Coali­tion air­craft have not been and will not be us­ing de­pleted ura­nium mu­ni­tions in Iraq or Syria dur­ing Op­er­a­tion In­her­ent Re­solve.”

Later that year, the Pen­tagon’s stance to­ward de­pleted ura­nium changed. As U. S.- led forces ramped up their cam­paign to go after the Is­lamic State’s cash flow, U.S. plan­ners for Op­er­a­tion Tidal Wave II de­cided that de­pleted-ura­nium am­mu­ni­tion would be the most ef­fec­tive weapon for tar­get­ing hun­dreds of Is­lamic State oil trucks in the Syr­ian desert.

Jac­ques said U.S. forces wanted to en­sure that trucks would be ren­dered in­op­er­a­ble, adding that de­pleted-ura­nium rounds were the best way to achieve that, rather than the A-10’s stan­dard high ex­plo­sive can­non rounds. Typ­i­cally, de­pleted-ura­nium rounds are used on ar­mored ve­hi­cles, such as tanks and troop trans­ports, and there is no in­ter­na­tional treaty or rule that ex­plic­itly bans their use.

De­pleted ura­nium is the byprod­uct of the en­riched ura­nium needed to power nu­clear re­ac­tors. De­pleted ura­nium is roughly 0.7 per­cent times as ra­dioac­tive as nat­u­ral ura­nium and its high den­sity makes it ideal for ar­mor-piec­ing rounds such as the PGU-14 and cer­tain tank shells. De­pleted ura­nium is also used to re­in­force cer­tain types of ar­mor and has a num­ber of non­mil­i­tary uses, such as be­ing used for bal­last in ships.

In a 2014 United Na­tions re­port on de­pleted-ura­nium mu­ni­tions, the In­ter­na­tional Atomic En­ergy Agency said “the ex­is­tence of de­pleted-ura­nium residues dis­persed in the en­vi­ron­ment, when ob­served as con­fined con­tam­i­na­tion of soils, veg­eta­bles, wa­ter and sur­faces, does not pose a ra­di­o­log­i­cal haz­ard to the lo­cal pop­u­la­tions.”

The agency did say, how­ever, that di­rect con­tact with larger amounts of de­pleted ura­nium through the han­dling of scrap metal, for in­stance, could “re­sult in ex­po­sures of ra­di­o­log­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance.”

Jac­ques did not rule out the pos­si­bil­ity that the U.S.led coali­tion might use de­pleted-ura­nium rounds again, adding that the lo­ca­tions where it was used in Novem­ber 2015 have been marked for cleanup in the fu­ture. San­i­tiz­ing the ar­eas where the am­mu­ni­tion was fired might prove dif­fi­cult, how­ever, as the area is still pri­mar­ily con­trolled by the Is­lamic State group and what­ever scrap left be­hind from the strikes likely has been re­cov­ered and sold.

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