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Published On: Sun, Feb 19th, 2017

Did the US Use Depleted Uranium Munitions in Syria?

Christof Lehmann (nsnbc) : In 2015 US Operation Inherent Resolve spokesman John Moore said the US didn’t use depleted uranium munitions in Syria. An article published in Foreign Policy, quoting US CENTCOM spokesman Maj. Josh Jacques suggests otherwise.

Image courtesy Garryknight

Image courtesy Garryknight

In 2015 US Operation Inherent Resolve spokesman John Moore dismissed allegations that the United States uses or will use depleted uranium munitions in Syria saying: “U.S. and coalition aircraft have not been and will not be using depleted uranium munitions in Iraq or Syria during Operation Inherent Resolve.”

However, an article published in Foreign Affairs on February 14, 2017, authored by Samuel Oakford, casts serious doubts about the truthfulness of Moore. In his article entitled “The United States Used Depleted Uranium in Syria”, Samuel Oakford notes: “U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) spokesman Maj. Josh Jacques told Airwars and Foreign Policy that 5,265 armor-piercing 30 mm rounds containing depleted uranium (DU) were shot from Air Force A-10 fixed-wing aircraft on Nov. 16 and Nov. 22, 2015, destroying about 350 vehicles in the country’s eastern desert.”

The United States used depleted uranium munitions during the so-called Second Gulf War in Iraq in 2003. nsnbc international spoke with medical staff in Fallujah, Iraq in 2012. The consensus among medical doctors at Fallujah’s main hospital is that the incidence and prevalence of serious congenital malformations is so high that doctors and nurses recommend newly-wed couples to consider not to have children. One of the MDs nsnbc spoke with in 2012 said “Before the war people used to ask ´is it a boy or a girl` now they are only asking ´is it normal`”.

The statement made by US CENTCOM’s Major Josh Jaques, has several serious implications. The least serious implication is the admittance that the USA, arguably, violated international law by carrying out air strikes in Syria without a mandate from the UN Security Council or permission from the Syrian government. It’s “the least serious” implication because intelligence suggests that the USA has an informal agreement with Syria and Russia not to target trops of the Syrian Arab Army.

There does not exist any binding international treaty that the USA has signed, that explicitly prohibits the use of depleted uranium munitions. Depleted uranium munitions are, however, covered by other treaties and conventions which prohibit the use of indiscriminate weapons.

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) recognized the principle of distinction as one of the two cardinal principles contained in the texts constituting the fabric of humanitarian law. As a consequence of the requirement to distinguish at all times between combatants and military objectives on the one hand, and civilians and civilian objects on the other hand, it is prohibited under international humanitarian law to launch indiscriminate attacks.

Indiscriminate attacks include those ‘which employ a method or means of combat which cannot be directed at a specific military objective’ or ‘the effects of which cannot be limited as required by international humanitarian law’ and which ‘consequently, in each such case, are of a nature to strike military objectives and civilians or civilian objects without distinction’.

Clearly, the use of depleted uranium munitions is covered by international and humanitarian law. The pulverized or vaporized uranium oxide lingers around targeted vehicles for considerable time. Dust particles are disseminated throughout the environment and can enter the body through inhalation, ingestion. Once dissolved in the blood stream some of the depleted uranium (DU) will be excreted through the kidneys where it can cause chemical damage. Some of the DU particles will remain in the body, especially in the bones, where it remains as a long-term source of alpha, beta, as well as gamma radiation, irradiating surrounding tissue.

Depleted Uranium Damages

Depleted Uranium Damages

DNA damages caused by the irradiation can lead to cancer and congenital malformations. Several animal studies have confirmed that DU is spread to multiple organs in the body and induces transgenerational genomic damage. The is, DU does not merely indiscriminately target one generations but future, yet unborn generations. A survey performed in Fallujah in 2010 found that the overall cancer rate in the time after the 2003 war had increased four-fold compared to standard rates in the Jordanian or the Middle Eastern Cancer Registries.

Childhood cancer had increased 12-fold, while leukemia rates had increased 38-fold. Another survey performed in 2010 found that 14.7 % of all babies born in Fallujah had birth defects. A follow-up study found significantly higher uranium levels in the hair of moth­ers of children diagnosed with congenital anomalies than in control populations (0.18 ppm vs. 0.04 ppm).

Uncertainties and contradictory statements about the use of depleted uranium munitions in Syria clearly warrant a full and independent investigation and a renewed debate how to “enforce” the ban on the use of indiscriminate weapons and how to “prosecute” those within a chain of command” who are responsible for their use.

CH/L – nsnbc 19.02.2017

About the Author

- Dr. Christof Lehmann is the founder and editor of nsnbc. He is a psychologist and former independent political consultant on conflict, conflict resolution and a wide range of other political issues. In March 2013 he established nsnbc as a daily, independent, international on-line newspaper. He can be contacted at nsnbc international at nsnbc.wordpress@gmail.com

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