Cluster bombs have been banned in more than 120 countries, and many allies and humanitarian groups also oppose the bomb’s use.
However, the use of cluster bombs on the battlefield does not violate international law, but any use in populated areas is a war crime.
Earlier this year, Ukraine hailed the Biden administration’s decision to provide the weapon, saying it needs “weapons, more weapons and more weapons, including cluster munitions” if it is to defeat Russia.
In recent days, heavy fighting has erupted in and around Urozhaine and Staromaiorske, and according to reports, Vladimir Putin’s soldiers have been seen fleeing US-supplied cluster munitions.
Footage released by Ukraine’s Defense Ministry shows the cluster bombs hitting Russian forces during Kiev’s recapture of Urozhaine in the Donetsk region.
“Urozhaine freed,” Hanna Maliar, Kyiv’s deputy defense minister, told Telegram. “Our defenders are holed up on the outskirts.”
Cluster bombs typically release large numbers of smaller bombs that can kill indiscriminately and over a large area, and those that don’t explode can pose a hazard for years.
Here’s what cluster munitions are, why they’re so controversial, and where they’re used.
What is a cluster munition?
A cluster munition is a bomb that opens in mid-air and fires smaller “bomblets” over a large area. The bomblets are designed to take out tanks and equipment, as well as troops, hitting multiple targets at once.
The munitions will be fired using the same artillery weapons that Western allies have already provided to Ukraine for the war – such as howitzers – and the type of cluster munition the US is sending is based on a common 155mm shell, which is already in widespread use is across the battlefield.
Why are they so controversial?
In previous conflicts, cluster munitions had a high dud rate, leaving thousands of the smaller duds behind, killing and maiming decades later. The US last used its cluster munitions in combat in Iraq in 2003 and decided not to continue using them as the conflict shifted to more urban areas with denser civilian populations.
Brigadier General Pat Ryder – the Pentagon press secretary – said the US Department of Defense has “several variants” of the munitions and “those we are considering providing would not include older variants.” [unexploding] Tax rates higher than 2.35 percent”.
A convention banning the use of cluster bombs has been signed by more than 120 countries, which have agreed not to use, manufacture, transport or store the weapons and to dispose of them after use. The US, Russia and Ukraine have not signed up.
Why deploy them now?
For more than a year, the US has resorted to its own stocks of traditional 155 howitzer ammunition, sending more than two million rounds to Ukraine. Allies around the world, including Britain, have provided hundreds of thousands more.
A 155mm round can hit targets at a range of 15 to 20 miles (24 to 32 kilometers), making it a preferred ammunition for Ukrainian ground forces trying to hit enemy targets from afar. The Ukrainian armed forces fire thousands of shots every day in the fight against the Russians.
Yehor Cherniev, a member of Ukraine’s parliament, told reporters at a German Marshall Fund event in the US that Kiev would likely have to fire 7,000 to 9,000 shots a day during the intensified counter-offensive. When so many assume so, it puts significant pressure on stocks in the US and its allies.
The cluster bomb can destroy more targets with fewer rounds, and since the US hasn’t used it in conflict since Iraq, it stockpiles large amounts of it that it can access quickly, said Ryan Brobst, a research analyst with the Foundation for Defense of democracies.
A March 2023 letter from top Republicans in the House and Senate to the Biden administration said the US may have up to three million cluster munitions available for use and called on the White House to send the munitions to ease the pressure on American war supplies.
“Cluster munitions are more effective than unitary artillery shells because they do damage over a larger area,” Brobst said. “This is important for Ukraine as it seeks to clear heavily fortified Russian positions.”
Tapping into US stockpiles of cluster munitions could counter Ukraine’s shell shortages and ease pressure on 155mm stockpiles in the US and elsewhere, Brobst said.
Is the use of cluster bombs a war crime?
The use of cluster bombs in itself does not violate international law, but using them against civilians can be a violation. As with any attack, determining a war crime involves examining whether the target was legitimate and whether precautions were taken to avoid civilian casualties.
“The part of international law where this begins [a role]”But these are indiscriminate attacks on civilians,” said Mark Hiznay, deputy arms director at Human Rights Watch. “So that’s not necessarily related to the guns, it’s related to the way the guns are used.”
Where were cluster bombs used?
The bombs have been used in many recent conflicts.
According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), the US initially viewed cluster bombs as an integral part of its arsenal during the invasion of Afghanistan, which began in 2001. The group estimated that the US-led coalition had dropped more than 1,500 cluster bombs in Afghanistan in the first three years of the conflict.
The Department of Defense had until 2019 to phase out the use of any cluster munitions with a proportion of unexploded ordnance greater than 1 percent. But the Trump administration reversed that policy and allowed commanders to authorize the use of such munitions.
Syrian government forces have frequently used Russian-supplied cluster munitions against opposition strongholds during the country’s civil war, often hitting civilian targets and infrastructure. And Israel used them in civilian areas of southern Lebanon, including during the 1982 invasion.
During the months-long war with Hezbollah in 2006, HRW and the United Nations accused Israel of firing up to four million cluster munitions into Lebanon. What remained was unexploded ordnance, which still threatens the Lebanese civilian population today.
The Saudi-led coalition in Yemen has been criticized for using cluster bombs in the war with Iran-backed Houthi rebels that has devastated the southern Arabian country.
According to the United Nations, in 2017 Yemen was the country with the second highest rate of cluster munitions, after Syria. Children have been killed or maimed long after the munitions originally landed, making it difficult to determine the true number.
In the 1980s, the Russians used cluster bombs massively during their decade-long invasion of Afghanistan. Due to decades of war, the Afghan country remains one of the most heavily mined areas in the world.
Which countries have banned the cluster bomb?
The Convention on Cluster Munitions is an international treaty of more than 100 countries that bans all use, manufacture, transfer and stockpiling of cluster munitions.
According to the official website, the Convention was first adopted by 107 states in Dublin on May 30, 2008 and signed in Oslo on December 3 of the same year.
It soon became binding international law when it came into force on August 1, 2010, and so far a total of 123 countries have acceded to the Convention – 111 States Parties and 12 Signatory States.
Italy, Spain, Germany and the United Kingdom are among NATO members who have spoken out against the use of cluster bombs.
The wealth of countries can be found Here.
The Associated Press contributed to this report