« These weapons should be eliminated from our stockpiles, not dumped in Ukraine, » he added.
Cluster bombs, officially called dual-purpose enhanced conventional munitions, are designed to bring down multiple military targets by scattering large numbers of small « bombs » over a large area. They are banned by most NATO countries because ordnance that fails to detonate can end up killing civilians, even long after the conflict has ended.
Democratic lawmakers noted that Congress has banned the transfer of any cluster munitions with a « dud rate » greater than 1%, although Biden may waive the rule.
Pentagon spokesman Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder said Thursday that officials will « carefully » select only rounds with lower dud rates, for which there are recent tests, to be sent to Ukraine. The United States has large numbers of cluster bombs in storage, which officials say will help Ukraine break through dug-in Russian lines as Kiev is rapidly running out of conventional munitions.
However, this week lawmakers joined arms control defenders in saying the administration was making an unacceptable ethical compromise that would have killed civilians, alienated allies and damaged morale in support of Ukraine.
Progressive Rep Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), the ranking member of the House panel that funds the State Department, tweeted that she was « alarmed » at the move, while the ranking member of the House Rules Committee Jim McGovern he said that while he supports aiding Ukraine, the sending of cluster bombs represents a break with NATO allies such as the UK, France, Germany and Spain.
US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan on Friday defended the administration’s decision, saying, « Russia has used cluster munitions since the beginning of this war to attack Ukraine. »
“Ukraine has engaged in post-conflict demining efforts to mitigate any potential harm to civilians. And this will be necessary whether or not the United States supplies this ammunition,” she said.
However, some more aggressive Democrats also ripped off the administration. Air Force veteran and member of the House Armed Services Chrissy Houlahanin a statement on Friday, he contested the assessment that cluster bombs would be the most effective means of supporting Kiev.
« I challenge the notion that we should be employing the same tactics that Russia is using, blurring the lines of moral superiority, » said Houlahan, who co-chairs the bipartisan Unexploded Ordinance (UXO)/Demining Caucus. “And I challenge all of us to remember that this war will end and the broken pieces of Ukraine will have to be rebuilt. History remembers not only who wins a war, but also how a war is won. »
Humanitarian and civil rights groups also criticized the decision. Marc Garlasco, a former Pentagon official and military adviser at PAX Protection of Civilians, a Dutch NGO, noted that actual dud rates in the field are much higher than registered ones during tests “conducted under perfect and unrealistic conditions”.
Comments from US officials defending the decision do not allay the fears of many in the community, Garlasco said, expressing skepticism about the latest Pentagon test data showing lower failure rates.
Arms control advocates who were in contact with administration officials on Friday said that despite claims that the cluster munitions sent would have lower destruction rates, there were no details on the types and sources of the cluster munitions. that the United States intends to send.
A Defense Department official, who was granted anonymity to speak ahead of an announcement, said the Pentagon has provided the test results, which are classified, to members of Congress upon request. However, the official acknowledged that field variables can significantly affect the dud rate.
« Shooting this in the desert, on dry, flat ground, you may get a completely different result than if you shot it in a mountain jungle, » the official said.
However, there are also powerful members of Congress who support sending cluster munitions. President of Foreign Affairs of the Chamber Mike McCaul (R-Texas), Speaker of the House Armed Services Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), and their Republican counterparts in the Senate have been pushing the move for months. Last month the Democratic-led Senate Armed Services Committee advanced its version of the Pentagon’s annual bill with linguistic support.
In a statement Friday, Republicans hailed the administration’s move as easing pressure on unitary missile stockpiles, but criticized what they called its delay in shipping a range of weapons over a « misguided fear of an escalation » which, according to them, puts the success of the Kiev counter-offensive at risk.
The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Jim Himes of Connecticut, said Washington should give Kiev what it needs to win the battle, including cluster munitions, long-range missiles and F-16 fighter jets. “From the first moment, my point of view was: give the Ukrainians what they want and need. Frankly I wish the United States and the administration had moved faster to deliver more weapons,” she told CNN earlier this week.
Progressives, some of whom asked in a letter last year for the administration to ban the use of cluster munitions by the US military, have been lobbying the administration for months to refrain from the move.
A House Democrat aide said he had pointed to that letter several times with State Department officials in recent months, to greet the administration when it appeared it was mulling cluster bombs for Ukraine.
“There are a number of progressives who are really left out. We thought the communication was clear,” said the aide, who was granted anonymity to discuss tensions with the executive branch. “They can’t say we weren’t sending out clear signals, this was an important step. A 6-year-old doesn’t step on an F-16 and lose a leg. »
Member of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Chamber Colin Allred (D-Texas) defended Biden’s decision on MSNBC Friday morning, saying there is « no chance » that Ukraine and its allies will lose moral superiority to Russian troops it has accused of war crimes and attacks on civilian targets.
“What we are trying to do, I think, is consistent with our values, to help the courageous Ukrainian resistance kick the Russians out of their territory, and I’m sure President Biden has thought deeply about this, and his team, and they decided this would help them do that — and I’m sure they’ll also try to have a plan to deal with any fallout,” Allred said.