While I am generally loathe to quote other media sources, recent news on both the Foreign Policy and Airwarswebsites show how the United States has potentially added to the already significant problems facing Syrians who have remained in their war-torn homeland.
According to both non-mainstream sources, United States Central Command Spokesman, Major Josh Jacques, recently admitted that the United States had used a total of 5265 armour-piercing 30 mm rounds from Air Force A-10 fixed-wing aircraft between November 16 and 22, 2015, destroying about 350 vehicles located in Syria’s eastern desert. These vehicles were part of a convoy being used to transport oil as a means of funding ISIS’ operations in the region as shown here:
Let’s look at some background before we continue with the main subject of this posting. Here is a photo of the A-10, also known as the Warthog:
Here is a photo of the GAU-8/A:
Here is a video showing a test of the A-10s GAU-8 Gatling gun both on the ground and in-flight:
At its high rate, the GAU-8 fires 3900 rounds of mixed high explosive incendiary and armour piercing incendiary ammunition per minute with a maximum range over over 1250 metres and a muzzle velocity of 1067 metres per second.
With that background, let’s go back to the news posted by both Foreign Policy and Airwares. While use of the awesome power of the A-10’s Gatling gun is not surprising, what is surprising is that the Air Force is admitting that they used 5265 rounds of armour-piercing rounds that contained depleted uranium on the dates in question, similar ammunition to that which was used during Operation Desert Storm. Back then, the Airforce used Armour Piercing Incendiary munitions with a depleted uranium (DU) penetrator slug because these munitions were particularly effective at countering armour-plated Iraqi tanks. The 148 A-10s used during Operation Desert Storm flew 8077 combat sorties, firing a total of 783,514 rounds of Armour Piercing Incendiary munitions, leaving a total of 249 tons of DU in the region.
Depleted uranium is sourced from depleted uranium 235 discarded by nuclear power plants as well as depleted medical waste. According to the World Health Organization, it has a radioactivity level that is about 60 percent of the radioactivity of the 3 percent uranium used as a fuel source. It has a density twice that of lead and, as such, makes an ideal metal for penetrating armour plating. WHO’s summary of DU states that there are three main methods of exposure:
1.) inhalation – the most likely route of intake when the depleted uranium is re-suspended in the atmosphere by wind or other forms of disturbance.
2.) ingestion – from drinking water or food.
3.) dermal contact – only a risk when it enters the system through an open wound or from embedded fragments.
Given that the use of depleted uranium munitions has become highly controversial particularly after Operation Desert Storm, it is rather surprising that the United States Air Force would continue to use these munitions in Syria, especially given that the long-term ramifications of its use could be linked to increased medium- and long-term health risks to the civilian population. As well, the operations in November 2015 were aimed at disabling “soft targets” like oil tanker trucks as in the video above rather than enemy armoured vehicles; in the Department of Defense’s own Law of War Manual it clearly states that :
“6.5.7 Depleted Uranium Munitions. Depleted uranium (DU) is used in some munitions because its density and physical properties create a particularly effective penetrating combination to defeat enemy armored vehicles, including tanks.”
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