US to provide cluster munitions to Ukraine as part of new military aid package

The Biden administration has decided to provide cluster munitions to Ukraine and is expected to announce on Friday, July 6, 2023, that the Pentagon will send thousands as part of the latest military aid package for the war effort against Russia, according to people familiar with the decision. (AP)
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Updated 10 July 2023
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US to provide cluster munitions to Ukraine as part of new military aid package

  • NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg stressed the military alliance takes no position on cluster munitions
  • Package from Pentagon stocks to include Bradley and Stryker armored vehicles and array of ammunition

WASHINGTON D.C.: The Biden administration will provide thousands of cluster munitions to Ukraine, national security adviser Jake Sullivan said Friday, vowing the US will not leave Ukraine defenseless and that Kyiv has promised to use the controversial munitions carefully.
The decision comes on the eve of the NATO summit in Lithuania, where President Joe Biden is likely to face questions from allies on why the US would send a weapon into Ukraine that more than two-thirds of alliance members have banned because it has a track record for causing many civilian casualties.
The munitions — which are bombs that open in the air and release scores of smaller bomblets — are seen by the US as a way to get Kyiv critically needed ammunition to help bolster its offensive and push through Russian front lines. US leaders debated the thorny issue for months, before Biden made the final decision this week.
Sullivan defended the decision, saying the US will send a version of the munition that has a reduced “dud rate,” meaning fewer of the smaller bomblets fail to explode. The unexploded rounds, which often litter battlefields and populated civilian areas, cause unintended deaths.
“We recognize the cluster munitions create a risk of civilian harm from unexploded ordnance,” he told a White House briefing. “This is why we’ve deferred the decision for as long as we could. But 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. That is intolerable to us.”

 

According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, some cluster munitions leave behind bomblets that have a high rate of failure to explode — up to 40 percent in some cases. The rate of unexploded ordnance for the munitions that will be going to Ukraine is under 3 percent and therefore will mean fewer unexploded bombs left behind to potentially harm civilians.
A convention banning the use of cluster bombs has been joined by more than 120 countries that agreed not to use, produce, transfer or stockpile the weapons and to clear them after they’ve been used. The United States, Russia and Ukraine are among those who have not signed on.
Ryan Brobst, a research analyst for the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said that while the majority of NATO members have signed on to the cluster munitions ban, several of those nearest Russia — Estonia, Latvia, Poland, Romania and Turkiye — have not.
“The most important of those are Poland and Romania,” Brobst said, noting that the US weapons will probably go through those countries en route to Ukraine. “While some allies raise objections, this is not going to prevent (cluster munitions) from being transferred into Ukraine.”
The cluster munitions are included in a new $800 million package of military aid the US will send to Ukraine. Friday’s package, which will come from Pentagon stocks, will also include Bradley and Stryker armored vehicles and an array of ammunition, such as rounds for howitzers and the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, officials said.
Providing the cluster bombs will also ease the pressure on limited US ammunition stockpiles. The US has been taking massive amounts of 155 mm rounds from Pentagon stocks and sending them to Ukraine, creating concerns about eating into American stores. The cluster munitions, which are fired by the same artillery as the conventional 155 mm, will give Ukraine a highly lethal capability and also allow them to strike more Russian targets using fewer rounds.

At a Pentagon briefing Thursday, Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said the Defense Department has “multiple variants” of the munitions and “the ones that we are considering providing would not include older variants with (unexploding) rates that are higher than 2.35 percent.”
He said the US “would be carefully selecting rounds with lower dud rates, for which we have recent testing data.”
So far the reactions from allies have been muted. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg stressed on Friday that the military alliance takes no position on cluster munitions and it is a decision that allies will make. And Germany, which has signed the ban treaty, said it won’t provide the bombs to Ukraine, but expressed understanding for the American position.
“We’re certain that our US friends didn’t take the decision about supplying such ammunition lightly,” German government spokesman Steffen Hebestreit told reporters in Berlin. “We need to remember once again that Russia has already used cluster ammunition at a large scale in its illegal war of aggression against Ukraine.”
Oleksandra Ustinova, a member of Ukraine’s parliament who has been advocating that Washington send more weapons, noted that Ukrainian forces have had to disable mines from much of the territory they are winning back from Russia. As part of that process, Ukrainians will also be able to catch any unexploded ordnance from cluster munitions.
“We will have to de-mine anyway, but it’s better to have this capability,” Ustinova said.
The last large-scale American use of cluster bombs was during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, according to the Pentagon. But US forces considered them a key weapon during the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, according to Human Rights Watch. In the first three years of that conflict, it is estimated the US-led coalition dropped more than 1,500 cluster bombs in Afghanistan.
Proponents of banning cluster bombs say they kill indiscriminately and endanger civilians long after their use
Marta Hurtado, speaking for the UN human rights office, said Friday “the use of such munitions should stop immediately and not be used in any place.”
“We will urge the Russian Federation and Ukraine to join the more than 100 states that have ratified the convention of cluster munitions and that effectively ban their use,” she added.


No Afghan ‘reintegration’ without progress on rights — UN

Updated 5 sec ago
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No Afghan ‘reintegration’ without progress on rights — UN

  • Since their 2021 return to power, Taliban authorities have not been formally recognized by any nation
  • Taliban’s edicts on women’s freedoms have been described by United Nations as “gender apartheid“

United Nations, United States: Restrictions on women’s rights continue to prevent Afghanistan’s “reintegration” into the international community, a senior UN official said Friday, adding that the Taliban’s participation in upcoming talks in Doha was not a legitimization of the isolated government.
Since their 2021 return to power, Taliban authorities have not been formally recognized by any nation and apply a rigorous interpretation of Islam, leading to a suppression of women’s freedoms that the United Nations has described as “gender apartheid.”
Restrictions on women and girls, particularly in education, “deprive the country of vital human capital” and lead to a brain drain that undermines the impoverished country’s future, Roza Otunbayeva, head of the UN mission in the country, UNAMA, told the Security Council.
“By being deeply unpopular (the restrictions) undermine the de facto authorities’ claims to legitimacy,” she said.
“And they continue to block diplomatic solutions that would lead to Afghanistan’s reintegration into the international community.”
Last year marked the start of a process in Doha to consider strengthening the world community’s engagement with Afghanistan.
The first Doha talks included foreign special envoys to Afghanistan under the aegis of the United Nations, and in the presence of the country’s civil society, including women.
The Taliban had been excluded from the opening talks and refused to take part in the second round if other representatives from the country were involved.
The third round of talks is set for June 30 and July 1 in Doha, and the Taliban has given assurances it will attend.
“For this process to truly begin, it is essential that the de facto authorities participate at Doha,” Otunbayeva said, warning however that high expectations “cannot realistically be met in a single meeting.”
“It cannot be repeated enough that this sort of engagement is not legitimization or normalization,” she stressed.
Responding to criticism over the absence of Afghan civil society representatives, notably women, at the talks that include the Taliban, Otunbayeva said those groups would be present in Doha for a separate meeting on July 2.
“This is what is possible today,” she said.
Afghanistan’s UN ambassador Naseer Ahmad Faiq, who still represents the government that preceded the Taliban’s rise to power, called the absence of civil society and women at the table in Doha “disappointing.”
He also expressed concern the agenda does not include discussions on the political process and human rights in Afghanistan, saying “this will be perceived as a shift away from issues deemed essential to the people of Afghanistan.”


New Delhi in touch with family of Indian suspect in Sikh murder plot in US

Updated 23 min 15 sec ago
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New Delhi in touch with family of Indian suspect in Sikh murder plot in US

  • Nikhil Gupta was extradited to United States this month after his arrest in Prague last year
  • Gupta is accused by US of unsuccessfully plotting with Indian official to kill a US citizen

NEW DELHI: New Delhi is in touch with the family of an Indian man who is accused of plotting with an Indian government official to kill a Sikh separatist in the United States, the foreign ministry said on Friday in reaction to a Reuters report.
Nikhil Gupta, extradited to the United States this month after his arrest in Prague last year, has been accused by US federal prosecutors of unsuccessfully plotting with an Indian official to kill Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, a US citizen.
Gupta, 52, pleaded not guilty on Monday to murder-for-hire conspiracy charges in a court in Manhattan and a source close to his family told Reuters on Thursday that it wanted New Delhi’s help to “get justice.”
“We have so far not received any request for consular access from Gupta, but his family has got in touch with us,” Indian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Randhir Jaiswal told reporters. “We are in touch with the family members and we are looking at the matter as to what can be done on their request.”
The US government has said it thwarted the alleged plot to kill Pannun and warned India about concerns of its involvement.
India has designated Pannun an “individual terrorist” but has dissociated itself from the plot, saying it goes against government policy. Pannun advocates for a sovereign Sikh state in northern India.
The source, who declined to be named given the sensitive nature of a case that has diplomatic implications, had said Gupta’s family has not been able to establish direct contact with him since his extradition.
“Regardless of the allegations raised against him, he is an Indian citizen and a patriot who deserves the rights and protections granted by the government to its citizens.”
The source said the family believed Gupta “is a victim in this series of events” but that “he will get justice.”


Arab-American mayor warns Biden has not ‘earned my vote’

Updated 41 min 57 sec ago
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Arab-American mayor warns Biden has not ‘earned my vote’

  • First Muslim mayor of Dearborn thrust into the national spotlight for his outspoken criticism of fellow Democrat Joe Biden, over the president’s support for Israel’s military offensive in Gaza

DEARBORN, United States: Abdullah Hammoud’s election as the first Muslim mayor of Dearborn was a watershed moment for this city, an automaking hub home to the highest concentration of Arab-Americans in the United States.
But while his early focus was on upgrading sewer infrastructure and investing in parks, he has now been thrust into the national spotlight for his outspoken criticism of fellow Democrat Joe Biden, over the president’s support for Israel’s military offensive in Gaza.
“I’ll be the first to say that we don’t want to see (Donald) Trump reelected to the White House,” Hammoud told AFP in an interview. “But people want to be inspired to come out.”
Dearborn, a suburb of Detroit famous as the birthplace of Henry Ford and home of the Ford Motor Company’s headquarters, has a population of around 110,000 residents, of whom 55 percent claim Middle Eastern or North African heritage.
In 2020, Dearborn voters overwhelmingly supported Biden and their ballots could tip the scales in Michigan — a crucial swing state that may ultimately decide the White House winner in November’s election.
Hammoud’s profile surged in January after he declined an invitation to meet with Biden campaign officials seeking to shore up the Muslim vote.
Since then, he helped galvanize a movement that saw over 100,000 voters mark “uncommitted” in Michigan’s Democratic primary in protest against Biden’s policy on Israel, and was asked by Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein if he would be her running mate.
Hammoud, who won’t meet the Constitutional requirement of being 35 until next March, was too young to accept the role, though he said the offer was “very humbling.”
Besides, he remains unsure about how he’ll cast his ballot.
“I would say that no presidential candidate has earned my vote,” said the father-of-two, urging both parties to pay attention to increasing public disapproval of Israel’s actions.
“If you look at all the polling data that’s emerging across the country, from coast to coast, the issues that we have been advocating for, fighting for... are issues that have popular support.”
These demands include a permanent ceasefire as the pathway to provide safe harbor for all hostages and prisoners, unfettered access to humanitarian aid, and ending the supply of weapons to Israel.
The son of Lebanese immigrants, Hammoud grew up in a “working poor” blue collar family. His father drove a truck while his mother’s father worked on an auto factory assembly line.
He was drawn toward the Democratic Party for its support of the labor movement, and equally repelled by Republicans, whom he says have a history of “demonizing Arab Americans, Muslim Americans and other people of color.”
Hammoud’s first dream was to become a physician, but he wasn’t able to get the grades. He instead trained as an epidemiologist and began climbing the corporate ladder as a health care executive.
But the sudden death of his beloved elder brother — Hammoud was the second of five children — made him re-evaluate his priorities, and in 2016 he won election to the state legislature.
Then in 2022, he became the second in a trio of new Muslim mayors in the southeast Michigan cities of Dearborn, Dearborn Heights and Hamtramck.
Hammoud immediately set to work righting historical wrongs.
For decades, the city had been marred by a reputation for racism, exemplified by the openly segregationist policies of former mayor Orville Hubbard.
Hammoud appointed the city’s first Arab-American police chief, which led to a drastic drop in tickets issued to Black drivers within a year, according to his spokesman.
Until the war in Gaza, triggered by Hamas’s attacks and hostage taking on October 7, 2023, Hammoud considered Biden a “transformative” president, but now believes “the genocide outweighs the impact of that domestic policy.”
Hammoud sidesteps the question of whether he could ultimately endorse Biden under the right circumstances, emphasizing that whatever he might say, it’s too late for some of his constituents who have lost dozens of relatives to Israeli bombs.
He has no doubt that Trump, who imposed a Muslim travel ban during his tenure, would be an utter disaster — citing the Republican’s arming of Saudi Arabia against Yemen, backing of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, and shifting the US embassy to Jerusalem.
But Hammoud recoils at suggestions that members of his community would be to blame for potentially paving the way for Trump’s return by withholding their support for Biden.
Asked how he would respond to this criticism, Hammoud said: “The question should be asked of President Joe Biden — what will he do to prevent Trump being reelected come this November? What will he do to help prevent the unraveling of American democracy and the fabric of our society?”


DR Congo militia kills more than 20 in village raid

Updated 22 June 2024
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DR Congo militia kills more than 20 in village raid

  • Locals blame Codeco militia, which claims to be fighting for the interests of the Lendu tribe against the rival Hema tribe, for the killings

BUNIA, DR Congo: Militia fighters on Friday killed more than 20 civilians in a village in the gold-rich Ituri province in northeast Democratic Republic of Congo, local residents said.
The residents blamed the Cooperative for the Development of Congo (Codeco) militia for the killings. Codeco claims to be fighting for the interests of the Lendu tribe against the rival Hema tribe.
“Codeco militias attacked the village of Lodjo on Thursday, where they killed eight civilians. They came back on Friday, the current death toll is 36,” Innocent Matukadala, head of the Banyali Kilo administrative center, that takes in Lodjo, told AFP.
He said the Congolese army “arrived too late” to prevent the massacre. “The population is in disarray,” he added.
“For now, there are 28 dead (on Friday) and a massive displacement of the population,” said a civil society leader on condition of anonymity.
Other sources put the number of dead at 23. One said the dead included gold miners, women and children.
Dozens of civilians have been killed in Codeco attacks on villages in the province since the beginning of this year.
Inter-communal violence killed thousands in Ituri from 1999-2003 until an intervention by European forces restored calm.
The conflict erupted again in 2017, resulting in thousands more deaths and the mass displacement of local people.
The southern part of Ituri has also suffered from the inter-communal violence spilling over from neighboring North Kivu province, which has been ravaged by attacks blamed on rebels of the Allied Democratic Forces group, affiliated with Islamic State.
The ADF, originally mainly Muslim Ugandan rebels, have established a presence over the past three decades in eastern DR Congo, killing thousands of civilians.
 


Mali political parties say leaders arrested amid crackdown

Updated 22 June 2024
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Mali political parties say leaders arrested amid crackdown

  • Eleven people arrested at private meeting, mostly political leaders, activists say
  • Political parties accuse authorities of silencing democratic voices, pursuing dictatorship

BAMAKO, Mali: An alliance of political parties and civil society groups in junta-led Mali said several of their leaders were arrested on Thursday evening during a private meeting at a house of a former minister. The alliance in a statement demanded their prompt release. The West African country, which has been under military rule since a coup in 2020, in April issued a decree that restricted political life in the name of maintaining public order.
The political parties and civil society groups did not say how many people were detained, but Boubacar Toure, a representative of one of the parties, told Reuters on Friday that 11 people had been arrested at the private meeting. Most of them were political leaders, he said.
In a statement, the political parties and groups accused the authorities of pursuing “a path to dictatorship ... with the sole aim of staying in power and silencing all democratic and republican voices.”
Mali’s security ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The ruling junta has suspended all activities by political parties and “associations of a political nature” after the group of political parties and civil society organizations jointly criticized the authorities on March 31 for failing to schedule elections within the promised time frame.
In response to the junta’s order, the political parties turned to the Malian Supreme Court but it is not clear when the top court will consider the appeal.
The location of Thursday’s gathering had been shared in a WhatsApp group for activists and political party members, the president of an association told Reuters. He spoke on condition of anonymity to protect his safety.
“The objective of these arbitrary arrests ... is to create fear among citizens, so that no activist, no member of an association, will raise a finger or come out to denounce what is being done,” he said.
Those arrested had gathered during the Eid religious festival to exchange best wishes and also to discuss politics, said the secretary-general of a political party who also spoke on condition of anonymity.
“With the suspension of political parties, the banning of political party activities, it is difficult for people to come together and talk, so every opportunity that allows people to come together is an opportunity to address essential questions,” he said.
He said the arrests would damage confidence in the ruling junta but would not prevent Malians from discussing politics.
“People continue to call each other on the phone, they continue to express their opinions,” he said. “One way or another, we will find the means to meet again, whether in the fields, whether in the orchards, whether around the squares.”