Munitions containing depleted uranium. Photo: AFP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region — For the first time in more than 10 years, the US military has confirmed that it used rounds containing depleted uranium in Syria in 2015. The toxic substance has been claimed to cause cancer and birth defects.
US Central Command (CENTCOM) spokesman Major Josh Jacques told Airwars and Foreign Policy that 5,265 armor-piercing 30 mm rounds containing depleted uranium (DU) were shot from Air Force A-10 fixed-wing aircraft on Nov. 16 and Nov. 22, 2015, destroying about 250 vehicles in the country's eastern desert.
In March 2015, coalition spokesman John Moore said, "U.S. and coalition aircraft have not been and will not be using depleted uranium munitions in Iraq or Syria during Operation Inherent Resolve." Inherent Resolve is the operational name for the US-led international coalition to defeat ISIS. It was formed in June 2014.
Depleted uranium, when fused with other metal alloys, are effective munitions for penetrating armored vehicles and tanks.
The United States’ usage of depleted uranium was widely reported during the 1991 and 2003 invasions of Iraq.
“Since the first Gulf War, DU has been used in the Balkans and Kosovo, and, more recently in the United States’ Middle East invasions,” the Montreal-based Centre for Research on Globalization wrote. “It has been suspected as the culprit in lung and kidney illnesses because it is soluble in water and can be ingested as a fine dust through inhalation.”
Doctors in the Kurdistan Region say they have seen higher rates of cancer after the two wars, but the spokesman from the Ministry of Health warned against directly linking only depleted uranium with the increased rates.
“There is an increase in the cancer incidence in our region, and with other chronic diseases since the Gulf War,” Dr. Khalis Qadir told Rudaw English.
Cancer is most prevalent in Denmark with 338 cancer diagnoses per 100,000 people, just ahead of France, Australia and Belgium, according to a 2012 World Cancer Research International report.
Iraq reported 108 cancer diagnoses per 100,000 people in 2014.
“The specialized facilities and equipment to make diagnoses plays into the higher rates in countries like this. But overall, studies have attributed it to lifestyle and diets like fast food to higher incidence rates,” said Qadir adding that the consumption of processed foods is less in the region than in those countries.
The United Nations General Assembly approved disarmament measures aimed at decreasing stockpiles of weapons containing the metal in 2014. It was approved 143-4 with the United States, France, Israel, the United Kingdom casting dissenting votes.
“The health and environmental effects of depleted uranium emissions had been explored by various bodies and agencies, but none had documented scientific evidence,” said the US representative to the UN, also speaking on behalf of France and the UK.