The Pentagon has withdrawn a plan to ban the use of certain cluster bombs that are widely seen as a hazard to civilians, Pentagon spokesman Tom Crossen has said.
"After spending hundreds of millions of dollars researching alternatives to cluster munitions, the USA has decided it can't produce "safe" cluster munitions so it will keep using "unsafe" ones", Mary Wareham, arms division advocacy director at Human Rights Watch (HRW), said in a statement.
Bush administration declared in 2008 that after January 1, 2019, the U.S. would continue its use of cluster bombs only if they met a performance standard of failing to detonate 1 per cent or less of the time.
In 2016, Human Rights Watch accused the Saudi Arabia-led coalition in Yemen of using American-made cluster bombs in civilian areas, an action that not only would have violated U.S. export laws but also would raise further questions as to whylawmakers and military officials condone the sale and use of the weapon. It does not specify what sufficient quantities are, and defines "safer" as meeting the 1 percent standard from the previous policy, by developing a self-destruct mechanism in the bomb, or removing the bomb's ability to explode by exhaustion of its power source.
"We condemn this decision to reverse the long-held U.S. commitment not to use cluster munitions that fail more than 1 percent of the time, resulting in deadly unexploded submunitions", said Mary Wareham, arms division director at Human Rights Watch.
Under the new policy, the Pentagon says bombs that have advanced self destruct or deactivation technology would also be acceptable for future acquisition.
The Cluster Munition Coalition also condemned the change, calling the decision "shocking". Amnesty International documented a 2010 USA attack on Yemen which apparently used cluster bombs and killed 41 civilians including 21 children. That can lead to civilian deaths and injuries long after conflicts end, APA reports quoting Reuters.
The new rules authorize the use of existing cluster bombs "until sufficient quantities" of a safer version are developed.
Such weaponry must meet a series of criteria, including having a way to render submunitions inoperable within 15 minutes of being armed. These smaller bombs can fail to explode on initial impact.
"The Department will retain cluster munitions now in active inventories until the capabilities they provide are replaced with enhanced and more reliable munitions", and calls the weapons "an effective and necessary capability".
Top photo | A Houthi rebel man holds a US-made cluster bomb fragment after a Saudi-led airstrike in Yemen's capital, Monday, April 20, 2015.
In a memorandum signed Thursday, Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said the United States remains committed to fielding weapons that are effective in war and that "minimize unintended harm" to civilians and U.S. and partner forces.
Shanahan also wrote that cluster bombs are "legitimate weapons with clear military utility" that may result in less harmed civilians compared to other weapons used against large numbers of enemy troops.
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