by A Historical Overview of the United States’ Depleted Uranium Usage – Lamya Tawfik / Islamonline.net
In the first part of this article we saw how the United States used depleted uranium in nearly every military operation it has conducted over the last decade. This article will discuss how DU was used by the US in the 2001 war on Afghanistan , and also in this year’s war on Iraq . It is also used by Israel against the Palestinians.
Afghanistan : 2001
According to some reports, the “Afghan War Syndrome” that started to appear among soldiers after the war is “marked by a state of vague ailments and carcinomas, and is linked with the usage of depleted uranium as part of missiles, projectiles and bombs in the battlefield.” 1
The Baltimore Chronicle published an extensive report in December 2001 and said that there is a “growing concern in central Asia that the United States has used depleted uranium in its strikes against Afghanistan.”
“As a result of the current conflicts, people of Afghanistan, who had been dying of starvation up till now, are likely to savor a more modern mode of death: death owing to radioactive materials pulverized over barren mountains and harsh plains in modern world’s war on terrorism,” the Chronicle said.
However, the paper also said that not only are the Afghani people in danger, but so are people living in nearby countries (such as Pakistan -the US ’s staunches ally on the “war on terrorism”). 2
Iraq : 2003
Right after the US and U.K. forces wrapped their war against Iraq in April, environmental agencies around the world raised red flags to the catastrophic situation in Iraq .
According to a report issued by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) there is a need for “urgent measures to address humanitarian issues. Priorities should include restoring the water supply and sanitation systems, cleaning-up possible pollution ‘hot spots’ and cleaning-up waste sites to reduce the risk of disease epidemics from accumulated municipal and medical wastes. 3
“Another priority activity should be conducting a scientific assessment of sites struck with weapons containing depleted uranium (DU). The report recommends that guidelines be distributed immediately to military and civilian personnel, and to the general public, on how to minimize the risk of accidental exposure to DU.”
The report also said that the war on Iraq has added to the “chronic environmental stresses that have accumulated in Iraq over the past two decades.” 4
It also added that the extent of damage caused by DU is unknown and a study in the region would require “receiving precise coordinates of the targeted sites from the military.”
The Royal Society of England also called on the coalition forces to reveal where and how much depleted uranium was used in the conflict in Iraq, so that an effective clean-up and monitoring program of both soldiers and civilians can begin and also highlighted the need to obtain further data on the exposure levels that can occur on the battlefield and in residential areas. 5
Professor Brian Spratt FRS, Chair of the Royal Society working group on depleted uranium, said: “About 340 tons of DU were fired in the 1991 Gulf War. The coalition needs to make clear where and how much depleted uranium was used in the recent conflict in Iraq. We need this information to identify civilians and soldiers who should be monitored for depleted uranium exposure and to begin a clean-up of the environment.
“Fragments of depleted uranium penetrators are potentially hazardous, and a recent Royal Society study recommended that they should be removed, and areas of contamination around impact sites identified, and where necessary made safe. Impact sites in residential areas should be a particular priority. Long-term monitoring of water and milk to detect any increase in uranium levels should also be introduced in Iraq . This would provide a cost-effective method of monitoring sensitive components in the environment, and provide information about uranium levels to concerned local populations.
“Although there are more pressing problems in Iraq currently, such as ensuring that civilians have access to fresh water, food, power and medical services, and removing unexploded shells, the coalition needs to acknowledge that depleted uranium is a potential hazard and make in-roads into tackling it by being open about where and how much depleted uranium has been deployed.” 6
The Royal Society’s recent study on the health hazards of depleted uranium found that most soldiers and civilians are unlikely to be exposed to dangerous levels of depleted uranium during and after its use on the battlefield, but concluded that some soldiers might suffer kidney damage and an increased risk of lung cancer if they breathe in substantial amounts of it, for instance inside an armored vehicle hit by a depleted uranium penetrator. 7
It also called for soldiers exposed to high levels of depleted uranium to be tested for its levels in their bodies. In its latest report, the Society recommended that in any future conflict using DU munitions, measurements of uranium in urine and modern biochemical tests of kidney function should be carried out on soldiers exposed to substantial levels as soon after exposure as practical and at subsequent intervals thereafter, the Society said on their website.
The Society also said that “exposure to DU on the battlefield may cause a doubling of the usual risk of death from lung cancer among a small group of soldiers in extreme circumstances, for example, if they inhale large amounts after their vehicle has been struck by a DU penetrator or if they have been working for long periods of time inside and around contaminated vehicles.” It also said that risks of leukemia and other cancers from exposure to DU radioactivity are likely to be very low for all conceivable battlefield situations. 8
The study emphasizes that the impact sites of depleted uranium penetrators may be heavily contaminated, and could be harmful if swallowed by children for example. In addition, large numbers of corroding depleted uranium penetrators embedded in the ground might pose a long-term threat if the uranium leaches into water supplies. 9
The day following the Royal Society’s statement, the UK’s Guardian newspaper reported that the Ministry of Defense will offer tests to soldiers returning from the war on Iraq to check the levels of DU in their bodies to “assess whether they are in danger of suffering kidney damage and lung cancer as a result of exposure”. 10
“Experts have calculated that from all sources, between 1,000 and 2,000 tons of depleted uranium were used by the coalition in the three-week conflict,” said the Guardian.
Perhaps the troops coming in from the UK will be offered tests to check levels of depleted uranium in their bodies, but who will offer the same tests to the millions of Iraqi civilians?
Israel Is Using DU, Too
In November 2000 the International Action Center, an organization founded by former US Attorney General, Ramsey Clark, called on international organizations, NGOs, environmental and health organizations to “investigate the Israeli military’s use of prohibited weapons in the West Bank and Gaza, and to mobilize to stop it.” 11 These weapons included dumdum bullets, CS gas as well as DU weapons.
“The effect of dumdum bullets and CS gas is immediate, easily shown and obvious. Using radioactive and toxic depleted-uranium weapons is an additional crime that has an insidious long-term effect, not only on combatants and civilians in the vicinity, but over a broad area and to the general environment, as has been shown by the Pentagon’s massive use of DU weapons in Yugoslavia and especially in Iraq .” 12
“We know that Israel is DU-armed and capable, and shielding on Israeli tanks is DU-reinforced…. US arms make up the major part of the Israeli arsenal and Israel has been the number one recipient of US arms aid for decades. These US weapons include the M1 Abrams tank — which fires DU shells and is armored with DU-reinforced metal. The “Apache” and the Cobra helicopter gun ships are also equipped to fire DU shells. Since this latest Intifada started, the US has shipped Israel ‘the newest and most advanced multi-mission attack helicopters in the US inventory,’ as reported in the Jerusalem Post. These were Apache helicopters.” 13
The IAC delegation, after collecting shell casings and metal fragments from areas that had been bombed in Ramallah, were stopped and interrogated by Israeli officials at the Ben Gurion airport and the items collected were confiscated. “While this prevented the IAC from arranging its own tests, it made them even more suspicious that the Israeli forces were using DU shells and trying to hide it,” the organization said.
“Whether from shells or from the scrapings from tanks moving around the countryside, radioactive materials enter into the land, the water and the whole food chain, contaminating the densely populated West Bank and Gaza, where water is a scarce resource. Wanton radioactive contamination of this region is a crime against all of humanity and a threat to the entire region now and for generations to come.
“According to the LAKA Foundation in the Netherlands, the Israeli army first used depleted-uranium weapons in the 1973 war, under direction from US advisers.
“The … 1995 report from the US Army Environmental Policy Institute … asserts that Israel is one of the countries with DU munitions in its arsenal.” 14
The organization also said that Israel has a nuclear weapons program more developed than that of any country except the five major nuclear powers. “For exposing this nuclear program, Mordechai Vanunu, a nuclear-weapons technician, was kidnapped by the Mossad and held in solitary confinement 14 years,” the organization said.
“Given Israel ’s own nuclear program and well-developed military industry, the likelihood is that Israel is a manufacturer of DU ammunition. The firm Rafael of Israel is named in numerous reports as being such a manufacturer. But even if this were not the case, Israel has been able to import DU weapons from the United States,” it added.
There are just a few questions that badly need to be posed here…
The whole logic about having the US say that it’s all right for some countries to keep their WMDs and not the rest of the world is because they are a ‘democracy’ and can be trusted. How different is the current ‘democratic’ regime in the US from the ‘dictatorships’ it seeks to uproot in the Middle East? Are they really responsible enough to have WMDs, including but not limited to DU, in their possession?
Yet, Bush, who is supposedly a former member of the ‘Skulls and Bones’ secret society at Yale University, rules this democracy, and so was his father. There was even a movie made about it. Could it be that their sadistic aim is to reduce the world to just that… skulls and bones? 15
Ten years after the damage was done in Iraq, former US attorney general Ramsey Clark went with a multi-national delegation to Baghdad in 2001, to ‘investigate’ DU impact used in the 1991 war.
“Our government [US] is responsible for enormous suffering in Iraq and should be made to pay for the cleanup and care of the population,” he said at the time. 16 Perhaps in the year 2003, there was a phone call to the White House that Clark should have made. Then again, perhaps he did.
 “Report Says US Forces Used Depleted Uranium in Afghan War,” IslamOnline.
 “UNEP Outlines Strategy for Protecting People and the Environment in Post-war Iraq,” UNEP. http://www.unep.org/Documents/Default.asp?DocumentID=309&ArticleID=3965
 Royal Society calls on coalition forces to reveal where DU has been used in Iraq http://www.royalsoc.ac.uk/templates/press/showpresspage.cfm?file=445.txt
 “Depleted Uranium,” Royal Society of Britain.
 Depleted uranium might damage kidneys of some soldiers http://www.royalsoc.ac.uk/templates/press/releasedetails.cfm?file=352.txt
 “Gulf Troops Face Tests for Cancer,” The Guardian (London) http://education.guardian.co.uk/higher/news/story/0,9830,943301,00.html
 “Is the Israeli Military Using Depleted Uranium against the Palestinians?” International Action Center.
 EXTRA: Banging ‘Skulls’ http://www.hollywood.com/news/detail/article/312131
 “Former US Official In Iraq to Investigate Depleted Uranium,” IslamOnline. http://www.islam-online.net/English/News/2001-01/14/article11.shtml
Lamya Tawfik is a Cairo-based freelancer. She is currently preparing her master’s degree in Mass Communication with a specialization in Children’s Media Education at the American University in Cairo. She has previously worked as a news editor at IslamOnline.net and as a journalist and public relations specialist in Dubai, UAE. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org