Inspired by condemnation from human rights groups and crushing criticism in Congress, the United States government has abruptly suspended the transfer of cluster bombs to Saudi Arabia.
The vanguard of a coalition force fighting Houthi troops loyal to former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh Al-Sanhani Al-Humairi, the Saudi kingdom has often made indiscriminate use of cluster bombs during routine bombing missions over Yemen and is said to be responsible for the deaths of hundreds of civilians in Yemen.
The suspension imposed by the U.S. is limited to a particular type — the CBU-105 — which is a specially designed projectile manufactured to combat armored vehicles, large artillery pieces, anti-aircraft missile emplacements and radar installations.
Human rights groups, particularly Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have condemned the use of cluster bombs against civilian populations and have repeatedly warned of the harmful effects of the weapon’s use during offensive action and after airstrikes have concluded.
Rights groups say unexploded ordinance often remains buried in the ground and often inflicts civilian casualties.
Known as a “Sensor Fused Weapon,” a cluster bomb is typically a 1,000 lb. enclosed explosive device. Once released, the enclosed canister spins, undoes its outer casing and expels 10 BLU-108 submunitions, each attached to a parachute to slow descent.
Once activated, each BLU-108 submunition canisters contains what is called a “Skeet,” also known as a “sensor-fused projectile.” Guided by an infrared mechanism, the “Skeet” is directed by a laser ranging device to locate a target. Once located, multiple independent projectiles strike a wide area of the intended target.
Although over 100 countries have renounced the development, sale or use of cluster bombs in the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM) effective 2010, Russia and the U.S. have not agreed to the treaty and both countries have continued to manufacture and sell the weapon.
Russia has been criticized for its use of cluster bombs in Syria; similarly, Russia has also used white phosphorous bombs against Syrian opposition groups and terrorists of the Islamic State.
Outlawed as part of Protocol III in the 1980 Convention on Conventional Weapons, neither Russia nor the U.S. has signed the agreement or unilaterally renounced the use of white phosphorous bombs.
Congress is currently weighing options to the National Defense Authorization Act of 2016 with the intent of restricting military aid to Riyadh.
“For too long the Obama administration has not been holding countries receiving US military munitions accountable in the Middle East. It is no secret that Saudi Arabia’s record on strictly targeting combatants and legitimate military targets in Yemen has been questionable. The US should halt the sale of air-to-ground munitions to Saudi Arabia until Congress has conducted proper oversight and ensured that such munitions are being used in a way that is consistent with our country’s national security strategy and values,” said a press release from Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT).
[HRW.org] [amnestyusa.org] [RT News] [publicnow.com]