Officials have confirmed that the US military fired thousands of rounds of depleted uranium (DU) weapons during two high-profile raids on oil trucks in Daesh controlled Syria in late 2015.
The discovery was made in an investigation by Foreign Policy Magazine, which exposed the use of DU by the American military despite promises by the US not to use the munition on the battlefield in Iraq and Syria. The use of DU is widely accepted to be a violation of the basic rules and principles enshrined in written and customary International Humanitarian Law.
US Central Command (CENTCOM) spokesman Major Josh Jacques told Foreign Policy that 5,265 armour-piercing 30mm rounds containing DU were shot from Air Force A-10 fixed-wing aircraft on 16 November and 22 November 2015, destroying about 350 vehicles in the country’s eastern desert.
The air assaults mark the first confirmed use of this armament since the 2003 Iraq invasion, when it was used hundreds of thousands of times, setting off outrage among local communities, which alleged that its toxic material caused cancer and birth defects.
The investigation recalls how earlier in the campaign, both coalition and US officials said the ammunition had not and would not be used in operations against Daesh. But it was not clear if the November 2015 strikes occurred near populated areas.
In 2003, hundreds of thousands of rounds were shot in densely settled areas during the American invasion, leading to deep resentment and fear among Iraqi civilians and anger at the highest levels of government in Baghdad.
In 2014, in a UN report on DU, the Iraqi government expressed “its deep concern over the harmful effects” of the material. DU weapons, it said, “constitute a danger to human beings and the environment” and urged the United Nations to conduct in-depth studies on their effects.
DU is prized by the US military for exceptional toughness, which enables it to pierce heavy tank armour. However, airborne DU particles can contaminate nearby ground and water and pose a significant risk of toxicity, birth defects and cancer when inhaled or ingested by humans or animals.
It is the prime suspect in the medical condition dubbed the “Gulf War Syndrome” afflicting US veterans of the 1991 Gulf War and some peacekeepers deployed in the Balkans, where it was also used.