Concern grows over possible use of depleted uranium in Libya

30 March 2011 — International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons

The likelihood of DU use in Libya has now increased following the deployment and use of A-10 and Harrier AV-8B aircraft. ICBUW calls for pressure to be brought on the US to clarify the situation, and to put DU ammunition beyond use.

A-10s are known to have been active in Libya on the 26th and 27th of March, and are likely to have been used in operations since those dates. The 30mm PGU-14 Armour Piercing Incendiary DU round is fired from the GAU-8 heavy rotary cannon fitted beneath the cockpit of the A-10. It was designed for attacking armoured vehicles from the air, the kind of mission currently being undertaken by the A-10s.

At a Department of Defence briefing on the 25th March Vice Admiral Gortney said that only precision guided ammunition (i.e. bombs and missiles) was being fired and stated that: “At this time, [he was] not aware of any use of depleted uranium”.

While in some areas the threat of ground attack may mean that the GAU-8 cannon is not being used over land, and A-10s are only dropping explosive munitions, it seems unlikely that A-10s would have been brought into theatre for this purpose alone, as this is a role that can be played by other aircraft currently in use. It is known for certain that the cannon was used against two small boats on the evening of 28th March, which were alongside the Libyan Coast Guard vessel Vittoria. This means that Gortney’s assurance that only precision guided weapons were being used no longer stands, and that his comments about the use of DU munitions are no longer applicable.

ICBUW calls on the US to immediately clarify whether any of the current aircraft being used in Libya are equipped with DU, and give a categorical assurance, similar to that given by UK Prime Minister David Cameron, that weapons containing DU have no place in this conflict. In the event that they have already been used, immediate steps to warn people in affected areas should be taken, and decontamination work should be undertaken at the earliest possible opportunity.

The US needs to take steps in a clear and transparent manner to assure the world that no US aircraft will go into the air equipped with DU ammunition, and that pilots will not be cleared to fire it. Any DU ammunition currently in theatre should be separated and left un-used and information concerning any locations where the weapons have been used should be made available. ICBUW calls on the global media, international organisations and governments around the world to press the US for these measures to be taken.


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