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Cluster Bombs

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Cluster Bombs

falling cluster bombs

Cluster bombs are small explosive bomblets carried in a large cannister that opens in mid-air, scattering them over a wide area. The bomblets may be delivered by aircraft, rocket, or by artillery projectiles.

The CBU (cluster bomb unit) 26, which was widely used in Laos, is an anti-personnel fragmentation bomb that consists of a large bombshell holding 670 tennis ball-sized bomblets, each of which contain 300 metal fragments. If all the bomblets detonate, some 200,000 steel fragments will be propelled over an area the size of several football fields, creating a deadly killing zone.

cluster bomb victim

Because the fragments travel at high velocity, when they strike people they set up pressure waves within the body that do horrific damage to soft tissue and organs: even a single fragment hitting somewhere else in the body can rupture the spleen, or cause the intestines to explode. This is not an unfortunate, unintended side-effect; these bombs were designed to do this.

During its wars in Indochina, the U.S. dropped enormous amounts of cluster bombs. A B-52 bomber fitted with two Hayes dispensers could drop 25,000 bomblets on a single bombing run. It's estimated that some 90 million CBU-26 bomblets were dropped on Laos (and the CBU-26 is just one of 12 different kinds of cluster bombs that have been recovered there to date).

three types of cluster bombs

Because cluster bombs disperse widely and are difficult to target precisely, they are especially dangerous when used near civilian areas. In addition, they are prone to failure: if the container opens at the wrong height, or the bomblets don't fuse properly, or their descent is broken by trees, or they land on soft ground - they may not detonate. With a high dud rate estimated to be 10 to 30 percent, unexploded cluster bombs lay on the ground becoming, in effect, super landmines, and can explode at the slightest touch. They have proven to be a serious, long-lasting threat, especially to civilians, but also to soldiers, peacekeepers and bomb clearance experts. Children, who are sometimes attracted to the bomblets' bright colors and interesting shapes, represent a high percentage of victims.

Cluster bomblets become less stable - and more dangerous - as time passes. In Laos, nearly every day people are still being killed from bombs dropped 30 years ago. With an estimated 10 million (or more) unexploded cluster bombs, it could be many decades - or even centuries - until the killing is over.

There are many different kinds of cluster bombs. The WDU-4, used in Indochina, contained 6,000 barbed metal darts which were released overhead. Eyewitness accounts tell of the WDU-4 literally nailing people to the ground. The CBU- 41 has bomblets filled with naplam, the CBU-89 disperses mines, and the Honest John carries 368 bomblets filled with sarin nerve gas. The CBU-87, widely used by the U.S. during the Gulf War, the Kosovo War, and the war in Afghanistan, has three kill mechanisms: anti-personnel (for people), anti-armor (for tanks), and incendiary (setting the target area on fire). The B1 bomber can carry enough cluster bombs to turn an area the size of 350 football fields into a killing zone.

The Consequences
Wherever they been used - Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Sudan, Lebanon, Iraq, Kuwait, Yugoslavia, Kosovo, Ethiopia, Chechnya, and Afghanistan, unexploded cluster bombs have created problems for civilians:
  • During the Gulf War over 30 million cluster bomblets were dropped on Kuwait and Iraq and, in the following months, unexploded bombs killed 1,600 civilians and injured another 2,500.

  • According to a recent study by the Red Cross, children in Kosovo are five times more likely to be killed or injured by a NATO-dropped unexploded cluster bomb than by a Serbian landmine.

  • Today, in Afghanistan, reports indicate that the U.S. use of cluster bombs is causing the same kinds of tragic consequences for civilians there as they did in other countries. Because cluster bombs are area weapons with a wide dispersal pattern, they kill living things indiscriminately, including civilians. And their high-failure rate means that the killing of innocent people will continue long after the bombs stop dropping.
Cluster Bombs Today
Their current use in Afghanistan is helping to focus the world's attention on cluster bombs. Many feel that their impact on civilians is unacceptable and a breach of international humanitarian law. More than 50 international organizations, including the International Committee of the Red Cross, the Mennonite Central Committee, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the International Committee to Ban Landmines have called for a moratorium on cluster bomb use. And, in spite of the fact that cluster bombs are one of the favorite and most deadly weapons in the U.S. and NATO arsenals, on December 13, 2001 the European Parliament passed a resolution calling for an immediate global moratorium on their use to be followed by an outright ban.




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