AFGHANISTAN: US military denies keeping, using cluster munitions

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

KABUL, 2 February 2011 (IRIN) - US-led international forces say they do not have stockpiles of cluster munitions in Afghanistan and have not used them in the war against Taliban insurgents since March 2002.

“ISAF [the International Security Assistance Force] conducts operations in accordance with the law of armed conflict. All weapons, weapons systems, and munitions are reviewed for legality under international law,” Sunset R. Belinsky, a spokeswoman for NATO-led ISAF, told IRIN. Belinsky said new weapons were legally reviewed under Article 36 of the Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and that all US weapons, weapons systems, and munitions were also reviewed for legality in line with US Department of Defense directives.

The Afghan government signed the international Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM) in 2008 but is yet to ratify it, and the International Committee of the Red Cross has called on the government to accede to the convention “imminently”. An Afghan human rights body, Afghanistan Rights Monitor (ARM), said in a report on 1 February that US/NATO must clarify whether their forces keep or use cluster munitions in Afghanistan. “The United States Government was infuriated when President Hamid Karzai signed the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM) in December 2008 because the US Military believed that cluster munitions had military utility, according to confidential US diplomatic cables leaked by the whistleblower website Wikileaks,” said the report.

“ARM calls on the US government and NATO officials to provide some transparency about the stockpiles and the possible use of cluster munitions by US/NATO forces in Afghanistan,” the organization said. Victims Cluster munitions were used in Afghanistan in 1979-1989 by the former Soviet Union, in 1992-1996 by Islamic warring factions, and from October 2001 to March 2002 by US-led coalition forces against the Taliban, according to the UN-affiliated Mine Action Coordination Center of Afghanistan (MACCA).

IRIN film on Landmines

More than 20 years since the end of Cambodia’s decades-long conflict, landmines continue to claim the lives and limbs of innocent people. But landmine survivors are proving they can still lead full lives. view film “We have no evidence of NATO/US using cluster munitions since 2002,” said Flora Sutherland, a MACCA spokeswoman in Kabul.

At least 24 residential and agricultural areas in different parts of the country are still contaminated with cluster munitions which pose serious risks to civilians, MACCA said. From December 2001 to July 2010, cluster munitions killed 40 people and injured 166, according to a November 2010 MACCA factsheet.

Severely affected by over 30 years of war, Afghanistan has one of the highest concentrations of mines in the world. Landmines and other explosive remnants of war (ERWs) kill and maim hundreds of people every year, demining agencies say. Over 3,738 people have been killed and more than 20,243 wounded by landmines and ERWs, including cluster munitions, since 1979, according to MACCA.

Meanwhile, as the number of civilian victims of landmines and ERWs shrinks thanks to extensive demining activities, the number of people being killed and wounded by improvised explosive devices (IEDs) has hit record levels. Over 690 civilians were killed and 1,800 injured in IED attacks in 2010, ARM said in its annual report on civilian casualties of war. Taliban insurgents and other armed opposition groups have been accused of war crimes for their alleged indiscriminate use of IEDs.