home Human Rights, Middle East, Politics Are the US and Israel Discontinuing Their Use of Toxic Weapons?

Are the US and Israel Discontinuing Their Use of Toxic Weapons?

The Pentagon has recently stated that the U.S. Air Force’s A-10 Warthog attack planes targeting the Islamic State group are not, and will not be, carrying ammunition which contains depleted uranium primarily due to the fact that most of the vehicles the Islamic State are using are little more than pick-up trucks mounted with machine guns, not well armored tanks.

Cluster munitions and munitions that can be deemed to be technically chemical, poisonous or toxic should be avoided completely in war. It’s good to hear that even though it has fired ammunition containing depleted uranium in Iraq in past wars the United States has opted not to now. Hopefully this is a sign of things to come.

While poison gasses were emitted into Iraq’s atmosphere by the brutal Saddam Hussein regime throughout the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988) against Iranians and Iraq’s Kurdish population in the north there were claims that the Gulf War syndrome which affected many Americans, and other coalition personnel, who served in the 1991 Persian Gulf War was at least partially caused by the depleted uranium emanating from A-10 cannon fire (the lethally deadly Avenger cannon can fire approximately 4,200 rounds a minute, rounds which have hitherto contained depleted uranium) during that war. Which makes sense considering they would often have shot-up many enemy tanks during Iraq’s hasty withdrawal from Kuwait and the ensuing 100-hour ground combat phase of that war.

The United States Marines used white phosphorus, and were suspected of dropping Mark 77 incendiary bombs also, during the horrible firefight, Operation Phantom Fury, against Islamist terrorists in the Iraqi city of Fallujah back in late 2004. They have admitted that white phosphorus shells were indeed used by them but denied using any of the munitions they fired contained depleted uranium. Nevertheless the aftermath of that action has seen Iraqi children born since that time afflicted with crippling birth defects, everlasting disabilities and illnesses. Of course all wars invariably cause civilian casualties and injuries and there is only so much a military power can effectively do even with sophisticated technological abilities and intelligence to realistically stop that, but it can take steps to minimize them, something which both humanity and morality necessitates. The usage of those kind of munitions should therefore be discontinued since their use is more often than not wholly unproductive and needlessly destructive and serves to taint the reputations of the armed forces who use them.

Chemical agents, such as Agent Orange, and napalm, an incendiary weapon of war which the U.S. has forgone using in favour of the aforementioned Mark 77 bomb, are highly synonymous with the Vietnam War, America’s costly and most ill-sighted war, especially in its modern history. Recently the U.S. has started to help the Vietnamese in their clean-up efforts to at least try and undo some of the enormous damage it did to Vietnam’s environment, not to mention its civilian population. Use of such chemicals all those years ago has seen many Vietnamese babies born with crippling birth defects, and in many cases without limbs.

Cluster bombs are similarly crude and by nature are wholly indiscriminate munitions. It’s good to see the outrage many people feel when they see the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad dropping barrel bombs from helicopters on urban areas which kill and maim many innocents yet rarely, if ever, kill any of his armed opponents. Given this salient reality his regimes continued use of such devices is quite rightfully condemned in the most withering of denunciations.

One is glad to see the U.S. is gradually ceasing its use of such wholly indiscriminate munitions. While they do continue to drop conventional bombs which are “unguided” in military operations they are not used in a manner that is guaranteed to afflict large numbers of civilian deaths (modern technology can accurately calculate how to accurately drop such a “dumb” bomb on an intended target by taking wind, distance to target and other such important factors into account), which is why systematic “carpet bombings” of urban areas where an adversary may be operating from isn’t done due to legal and moral constraints.

One is also glad to see that the Israelis haven’t used such highly indiscriminate munitions in recent escalations of violence with Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Cluster bombs were also used by the Israelis (the US also used them in Afghanistan against the Taliban back in 2001-02) in their last operation against the Hezbollah militia (Hezbollah also fired Chinese-made cluster rockets into Israel) in Lebanon back in 2006 – not wholly unlike land-mines when cluster bombs sometimes fail to explode they can become highly dangerous for unsuspecting civilians who may be killed or maimed by them years after they were dropped and left unexploded. More recently the Israelis used white phosphorous in combat during the 2008-09 Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip against Hamas in order to create smokescreens over the battlefield. That flammable chemical is very difficult to extinguish when it does ignites and can have lethally harmful affects on anyone who comes into contact with it as it can quite literally burn ones skin down to the bone. Thankfully the Israelis do not appear to have used the substance in throughout their last two operations against Hamas in Gaza and have said they would ensure none of their artillery shells would contain even “minimal amounts” of the material. One certainly does hope they do not use it in future wars neither.

War is invariably a cruel, horrible and downright nasty affair. But the nastiest of it is certainly augmented and enhanced substantially when munitions of a widely indiscriminate nature like the aforementioned are used when there are less discriminate and less deadly alternatives available, especially when two combatants are engaged against each other in civilian-populated areas. When the horrible undertaking that is war transpires those who uphold human rights and civility should nevertheless strive to be as civilized as possible, even when embroiled in what amounts to probably the most uncivilized of humanity’s activities.