Mystery Metal Nightmare in Afghanistan?
Compiled by Dai Williams
Context and issues
This research started in January 2001 when first reports of the UNEP Balkans Depleted Uranium (DU) survey included strange anomalies - too little evidence and too much radiation (from dirty DU).
These investigations question one of the best kept military secrets of the last decade. The facts about DU weapons are well known to military experts and arms manufacturers in the US, UK and at least 30 other countries.
But how much do politicians know about them? What have aid agencies been told? And why have the media stayed silent about new weapons in the Afghan war?
The conclusions have immediate implications for the health, safety and welfare of civilians, troops and aid workers in Afghanistan.
They question the role of Governments, UN agencies and the validity of official research studies concerning Depleted Uranium (DU) to date.
They raise serious questions about the global proliferation of DU in military and civilian applications and its suspected widespread use in Afghanistan.
They have fundamental implications for the classification of DU munitions as weapons of indiscriminate effect as defined in the 1st Protocal additional to the Geneva Conventions. Their use is a war crime.
Appendix A of the UK MoD's latest Proposal for a Research Programme on Depleted Uranium, March 2002 refers to "Anglo-French research on a tandem warhead system with depleted uranium lined rear charge" - a report by DERA (the UK Defence Research Agency) in January 1999. Does this refer to the BROACH warhead in the new Anglo-French "Storm Shadow" cruise missile?
Immediate risk assessments of potential DU contamination in Afghanistan plus relevant health and safety precautions for the population and expatriates, including aid workers and the UN peacekeeping force.
Urgent and rigorous environmental assessments and health monitoring by UN agencies (UNEP, WHO) and aid organisations in Afghanistan.
International vigilance from many countries to ensure that DU risk and casualty assessments are not delayed or compromised by military or political interference as happened after the Balkans War.
The UK Royal Society second report on Depleted Uranium was published on 12 March 2002. It expresses more concern about potentially lethal effects of acute DU contamination from known DU munitions (30 and 120 mm anti-tank penetrators). Its worst case does not address potential effects of much larger DU warheads but it provides a potential framework for assessing health and environmental effects of severe DU contamination.
The second UNEP Balkans study - on DU contamination in Serbia and Montenegro - was published in March 2002. Like the first study (March 2001) UNEP advised it would be based on assessments of known DU weapons and targets - 30 mm penetrators fired by A10 aircraft. It excluded guided bomb and cruise missile targets. However UNEP were first notified of the concerns in this report in March 2001, months before they visit Serbia and Montenegro. It seems reasonable to conclude that their field surveys have been compromised only to study targets that will not expose the severe environmental and health impacts of guided weapons with large Uranium warheads. Their project for Afghanistan, started September 2002, makes no reference to potential Uranium contamination. According to US and UK Government sources no Uranium weapons were used in Afghanistan. These investigations including the latest data from US Patent records confirming design of guided weapon warheads with uranium components since 1985 suggest otherwise. Check the UNEP website for their recent reports and plans for new studies.
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