BAGHDAD, IRAQ — If depleted uranium (DU) has not already been fired in Yugoslavia, what are the prospects that it will be?
The US Army has no DU munitions "in theater" and no plans to send them, says Lt. Col. Bill Wheelehan, an Army weapons spokesman at the Pentagon. But the US Air Force does have DU capability in the conflict.
President Clinton announced April 13 that NATO forces were "taking our allied air campaign to the next level" against Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic - and that "we are striking now at his tanks, and at his artillery."
America's best-suited plane for that task is the 1970s-designed A-10 "Warthog." It was "literally built around" a seven-barrel Gatling gun, a Pentagon report noted last year. "To further exploit the new cannon's tremendous striking power the Air Force opted to use the DU 30-mm round," the report said.
During the Gulf War, the 780,000 DU bullets shot from these planes accounted for 80 percent of all DU fired.
A-10s - which also carry an array of weapons other than DU - have been in action over Yugoslavia for weeks. The Air Force says it has the "capability" to use DU, but that it hasn't so far. "We still have not had any reports of any DU use in Kosovo," says Margaret Gidding, a US Air Force spokeswoman.
Chris Hellman, a senior analyst with the Center for Defense Information in Washington, finds that surprising: "If it is in fact true [that DU has not been used], it would require the Air Force to go significantly out of its way not to use DU," he says. DU rounds, he says, are the "standard load" for the A-10.
NATO used DU rounds against Bosnian Serb targets in 1995. Fragments were tested in Belgrade, the Yugoslav capital, so Serbs are aware of the propaganda value of any allied use of the bullets. A subcommission of the UN Human Rights Commission resolved in 1996 that DU was a weapon of mass destruction that should be banned.
"If you go after tanks that are moving, and ground forces, that is typically when those 30-mm depleted-uranium rounds would be used," says the Air Force's Ms. Gidding. Now, she says, the A-10s are instead using missiles.
What about President Clinton's "next level" of tank-busting? "I heard his comments as well," says Gidding. "But we have no reports that DU has been used."