The US is confident that the Ukrainian military will use depleted uranium (DU) ammunition responsibly, Deputy Pentagon Press Secretary Sabrina Singh said on Wednesday. Singh stated that these rounds are standard use in American tanks, including those that will be provided to Ukraine. She also expressed confidence that Ukraine will use the ammunition responsibly if it is included in the forthcoming military aid packages.
The possible delivery of DU ammunition to Ukraine was initially reported by the Wall Street Journal in June and later leaked to Reuters last week. The announcement was made official on Wednesday as part of a new $175 million package of military aid to Ukraine.
Depleted uranium rods are used as kinetic penetrators in anti-tank SABOT rounds fired by M1 Abrams tanks. Earlier this year, the US pledged to provide Ukraine with 31 of these tanks, with the first batch expected to be delivered this month.
It is worth noting that the UK has already sent a shipment of DU rounds to Ukraine earlier this year for use with its Challenger 2 tanks. Both the US and UK governments have dismissed concerns about the impact of toxic metal dust on human health and the environment, asserting that DU is not radioactive.
Critics of DU ammunition argue that its use has been linked to a significant increase in cancer and birth defects in places like Iraq and Serbia where it has been deployed. They claim that DU rounds fragment into dust that is highly toxic when inhaled or handled.
The United Nations has condemned the use of DU rounds, just as it had condemned the delivery and use of cluster munitions in July. However, these condemnations have not deterred Washington from its military support to Ukraine. The US and its allies have already sent over $100 billion worth of weapons, ammunition, and equipment to Ukraine, pledging to support Kiev for as long as it takes to defeat Russia. It is important to note that they insist they are not directly involved in the conflict. Nevertheless, Moscow has criticized these deliveries as escalatory and warned the West that it is “playing with fire.”
The Pentagon has previously avoided or downplayed uncomfortable questions about Ukraine’s responsible use of Western equipment, such as cluster munitions. In the past, when presented with images of burned-out US vehicles used by Ukrainian militants in an attack on Belgorod Region in Russia, the Pentagon and the State Department cast doubt on their authenticity and quickly moved on.
It remains to be seen how Ukraine will handle the DU ammunition it receives from the US. The controversy surrounding the use of depleted uranium rounds persists, with concerns about potential health and environmental risks. As the conflict between Ukraine and Russia continues, the deployment of such ammunition raises further questions about the long-term consequences and implications for the region.