America Cluster Bombs Iraq
Excerpted from the Monday, February 26, 2001 Washington Post
by William M. Arkin
News media reports last week that 50 percent of the weapons fired at Iraqi military installations missed their so-called aimpoints obscures a more disturbing facet of the Feb. 16 attack: The U.S. jets used cluster bombs that have no real aimpoint and that kill and wound innocent civilians for years to come.
This is not merely some insider detail. The choice of cluster bombs, still unnoticed by the American media, is likely to prove controversial. The weapon that was used in Iraq is formally known as Joint Stand-off Weapon (JSOW,pronounced jay-sow). It was first used in combat in Iraq on January 25, 1999, when Marine Corps F-18 Hornet's fired three weapons at an air defense site.
|U.S. warplanes attacked air defenses in northern
on February 22, 2001 and President George W. Bush
insisted that last week's controversial raids by U.S.
and British jets near Baghdad were successful
although some 'smart' bombs missed their targets.
The raid on Feb. 16 was taken to knock out Iraqi
radar, such as the 'Volex,' which can reach into the
southern no-fly zone, the Pentagon said.
(Dept. Of Defense via Reuters)
The missile is described by the Navy, its primary developer, and Raytheon Systems, its manufacturer, as a long-range glide bomb. Acting Pentagon spokesman, Navy Rear Admiral Crag Quigley primly calls it an "area munition," doggedly avoiding the scattershot reality conveyed by the term “cluster bomb.”
Twenty eight JSOWs were fired by Navy aircraft in the in the Feb. 16 attack, along with guided missiles and laser-guided bombs. Pentagon sources say that 26 of the 28 JSOWs missed their aimpoints.
The 1,000 pound, 14-foot-long weapon carries 145 anti-armor and anti-personnel incendiary bomblets which disperse over an area that is approximately 100 feet long and 200 feet wide. In short, this weapon, which Quigley describes as a "long-range, precision-guided, stand-off weapon," rains down deadly bomblets on an area the size of a football field with six bombs falling in every 1,000 square feet. So much for precision.
Pilots may launch and leave, but the JSOW, like other cluster bombs, is unforgiving once aircraft deliver them. The JSOW releases its sub-munitions about 400 feet above its target. These bomblets are also used in the most prevalent modern U.S. cluster bomb, the CBU-87. But unlike the CBU-87, the JSOW does not spin to disperse its bomblets. Rather the JSOW uses a gasbag to propel the sub-munitions outward from the sides. Once ejected, the bomblets, each the size of soda can, simply fall freely at the mercy of local winds. A few almost always land outside of the center point of the football field size main concentration. On average 5 percent do not detonate. These unexploded bomblets then become highly volatile on the ground.
Recently, U.S. Air Force engineers in Kuwait found an entire unexploded CBU-87 at an airbase that had been attacked during the Gulf War. The weapon had apparently malfunctioned and ripped open upon impact, burying bomblets up to six feet deep in the vicinity. To destroy them in place, a series of 10-foot high barriers had to be built inside a 700-foot wide safety cordon.
Already this month, there has been one Iraqi civilian death and nine injuries from unexploded cluster bomblets, presumably all left over from the 1991 Gulf War. On Feb. 20, Agence France Press (AFP) reported that a shepherd was wounded near Nasiriyah in southern Iraq when an unexploded bomblet detonated. On Feb. 15, Reuters said two Iraqi boys in western Iraq, also tending sheep, were injured by a cluster bomblet. On Feb. 9, AFP reported a child was killed and six others were wounded by sub-munitions near Basra.
February, it seems, is a fairly typical month for cluster bombs inflicting damage on innocent civilians.
"What we have to do is make sure we continue to tell the world that we are not after the Iraqi people," Secretary of State Colin Powell told CNN on Feb. 12. That is a tough task given the use of a weapon which has unique civilian impact.