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US Congress pushes Biden to send cluster bombs to Ukraine

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky is greeted by members of the US Congress following his address at the Capitol in Washington on Dec. 21, 2022. (Photo by AFP)

A bipartisan panel of US lawmakers is urging Joe Biden's administration to send mass-destructive cluster munitions to Ukraine, in a move that could help Kiev inflict heavy casualties on Russia forces and raise serious human rights issues.

In a letter sent to US President Joe Biden on Friday, Joe Wilson, Steve Cohen, and Victoria Spartz, a bipartisan group atop the Helsinki Commission, urged the White House to send enhanced dual-purpose conventional munitions, better known as DPICMs, to Ukraine to assist in an ongoing counter-offensive.

The weapon, which can be fired from artillery shells and scatter up to 88 bombs across the battlefield, could help Ukraine break through Russian tanks and dug-in positions. But if not cleared, bombs can be left to kill and maim civilians long after the war is over.

But the pressure to send artillery cluster bombs has intensified inside the US government and on Capitol Hill, as the Pentagon has sent or is preparing to send weapons at the top of Ukraine's list, starting with howitzers and ending with F-16s. And with Russia successfully clinging to the dragon's toothed trench lines, the pressure is only getting stronger.

“[T]ransferring DPICMs to Ukraine presents an opportunity to provide the Ukrainian Armed Forces with a powerful capability to use against the Russian army and mercenary forces,” the lawmakers wrote to Biden on Friday.

“Let us use this untapped, vast arsenal in service of Ukrainian victory, and reclaiming Europe’s peace.” The letter was sent to Biden before Wagner Group chief Yevgeny Prigozhin staged an abortive mutiny against Russian President Vladimir Putin that managed to take control of a Kremlin military logistics hub in Rostov-on-Don over the weekend before petering out. 

Russia hawks, including some Republican lawmakers, have argued that the Biden administration has been too slow to approve sending battle tanks and begin training Ukrainian pilots on F-16 fighter jets, hindering Ukraine's ability to launch a successful counterattack.

Biden administration has sent more than $40 billion in military aid to Ukraine since Russia first launched its military operation in February 2022. The United States and other NATO allies have been decisive in preventing Russia from winning.

Foreign Policy previously claimed that Ukraine quietly received DPICMs from other NATO allies, such as Turkey, which began sending US-designed cluster munitions to Ukraine last fall.

However, according to lawmakers, the US has a much larger arsenal of these weapons which can be fired from 155mm howitzers that the Biden administration first provided to Ukraine last year.

Cluster bombs are banned under the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM), an international treaty that addresses the humanitarian consequences and unacceptable harm caused to civilians by cluster munitions through a categorical prohibition and a framework for action.

The weapons can contain dozens of smaller bomblets, dispersing over vast areas, often killing and maiming civilians long after they are dropped.

The convention bans all use, production, transfer, and stockpiling of cluster bombs. More than 100 countries have signed the treaty, but the United States has not.

According to media reports, Ukrainian troops also fired cluster munitions against Russian positions in an effort to take territory in the eastern Donbas region earlier this year.

As the bomblets scatter randomly, experts worry that civilians could easily mistake them for toys or debris.

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