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US to send cluster bombs to Ukraine after wrestling with decision

The US will supply Ukraine with a controversial weapon that is banned by 123 countries because of its indiscriminate impact on civilians.

The White House announced Saturday morning (AEDT) it would send cluster bombs to the war, after delaying a decision as long as it could.

Ukraine has been requesting cluster bombs for months as a stopgap to its dwindling artillery supplies.

Human Rights groups describe cluster bombs as “abhorrent” for their impact killing and maiming civilians.

Cluster munitions scatter potentially hundreds of tiny ‘bomblets’ from a rocket, missile or artillery shell over a wide area.

Although they are meant to explode on impact, the tiny bombs have a ‘dud’ rate which means many remain unexploded on the ground until they are later stepped on or picked up.

The bomblets that fail to explode can pose a danger for years after a conflict ends.

More than 120 countries — including Australia, the UK, France and Germany — are party to the Convention on Cluster Munitions which outlaws these weapons.

Ukraine and Russia, who have not signed the convention, have been using cluster bombs since the invasion.

The US has also not signed the international treaty.

The BBC reports the dud rate of Russian cluster bombs is as high as 40 per cent, while the US says its cluster bomblets have a fail rate of less than 3 per cent.

National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said the US had wrestled with the decision for months.

“It’s a difficult decision. It’s a decision we deferred. It’s a decision that required a real hard look at the potential harm to civilians,” Mr Sullivan told reporters at a White House briefing.

“And when we put all of that together, there was a unanimous recommendation from the national security team, and President Biden ultimately decided, in consultation with allies and partners and in consultation with members of Congress, to move forward on this strategy.”

This missile dropped cluster bombs in a residential housing complex in Ukraine. Photo: Getty

Mr Sullivan said Ukraine would be using the weapons to protect its people and had committed to limiting civilian harm through de-mining.

“Ukraine has provided written assurances that it is going to use these in a very careful way,” he said.

“Ukraine would not be using these munitions in some foreign land. This is their country they’re defending.”

NATO ally Germany was quick to publicly oppose the Biden administration’s decision through Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is against the continued use of cluster munitions, a UN representative said.

Human Rights Watch called on Russia and Ukraine to stop using cluster munitions and urged the US not to supply them.

The group said that both Russian and Ukrainian forces have used the weapons, which have killed Ukrainian civilians.

‘Boost’ for Ukraine

US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said the effort to defend Ukraine had “run out of ammunition” and needed a boost.

He said the risk to civilians was even greater from Russia.

“There is also a massive risk of civilian harm if Russian troops and tanks roll over Ukrainian positions and take more Ukrainian territory and subjugate more Ukrainian civilians because Ukraine does not have enough artillery,” Mr Sullivan said.

The $US800 million ($1.2 billion) security assistance package announced by the Pentagon included cluster munitions fired by 155-millimetre Howitzer cannons, 31 additional Howitzer cannons, additional munitions for Patriot air defences and anti-tank weapons.

New Penguin drones, munitions for High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) and ground vehicles such as Bradley fighting vehicles and Stryker armoured personnel carriers were also included in the security aid — the 42nd such US package for Ukraine totalling more than $US40 billion since the invasion.

A 2009 US law bans exports of cluster munitions with bomblet failure rates higher than 1 per cent, which covers virtually all of the US military stockpile.

Mr Biden waived prohibitions around the munitions, just as his predecessor Donald Trump did in 2021 to allow the export of cluster munitions technology to South Korea.

-with AAP

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