Weekly Independent (Pakistan)
Vol 1, No.23, Regd No CPL-588
November 29 - December 05, 2001


The use of reprocessed nuclear waste in the US air strikes against the Taliban poses a serious risk of radiation poisoning to the human lives in Afghanistan and Pakistan

by Sarmad Sufian

Hard target weapons loaded with reprocessed nuclear waste have been used as secret weapons in the US-led air strikes against the Taliban, exposing human lives in Afghanistan and the adjoining border areas of Pakistan to a serious risk of radiation poisoning.

Sources in Pakistan's military establishment say the first warning about the use of reprocessed nuclear waste arrived last week in the shape of a dying Afghan child which led an Afghan doctor to diagnose that she was infected with radioactive or chemical weapons, presumably used by the US aircraft.

Some later diagnoses revealed that many of the Taliban troops and Afghan civilians have been affected, primarily due to radiation caused by the Depleted Uranium (DU), which actually is reprocessed nuclear waste. The DU (U238), the mystery metal is being produced by the US since 1997.

"It presents a perpetual health hazard similar to asbestos - especially in the lungs. And there is no known cure for inhaling Depleted Uranium dust". The sources say that as these cases were reported to the aid agencies conducting relief work in Afghanistan, the US military bosses were quick to refute them as mere speculations. "The US actually wanted to hush up the matter. Therefore, a bill has already been moved before the US Congress, calling for a total ban on Depleted Uranium and the disclosure of the facts about its use in Afghanistan."

However, in a recent statement questioning the safety of the US troops in Afghanistan, the American Defense Department spokesperson Kenneth Bacon indirectly confirmed the use of nuclear waste "We obviously put out instructions about avoiding Depleted Uranium dust. Our troops are instructed to wear masks if they're around what they consider to be atomised or particle-sized Depleted Uranium", Bacon said.

Estimates by Pakistani experts show that Afghanistan might have been hit by the reprocessed nuclear waste along with several hundred tonnes of smart bombs and cruise missiles used by the allied forces. Experts say that since the mystery metal is 50-75 per cent of the weight of the bombs -up to 1.5 tons in the GBU- 37 Bunker Buster bombs, the toxic reserves in the area could be huge and as dangerous as they were in the aftermath of the Gulf war.

The lethal Depleted Uranium oxide is known for travelling up to 25 miles by wind. "Therefore, large areas may be affected by each of the American bombs". The experts say the new generation of hard target smart bombs and cruise missiles being used by the US against Afghanistan can penetrate 10 feet into reinforced concrete before exploding. They were mostly used to attack the Taliban bunkers, caves, command centres, fuel and ammunition stores. "The 2 tonne GBU-37 Bunker Busters and 2000 lb GBU-24 Pave-way smart bombs, plus the Boeing AGM-86D, Maverick AGM-65G and AGM-145C hard target capability cruise missiles all use advanced unitary penetrators (AUP-113, AUP-116, P31) or BROACH warheads with the mystery high density metal in alloy casings". Since Depleted Uranium is basically reprocessed nuclear waste, field experts fear that given the massive bombing, the amount of hazardous radioactive deposits in the area might prove extremely dangerous to tens of thousands of the human lives in Afghanistan and the adjoining border areas of Pakistan. Reports emanating from Afghanistan reveal that after the fall of Taliban and the landing of the allied forces there, the troops and aid agencies have been told to proceed with caution. The Red Cross, Oxfam and other international aid agencies have reportedly been cautioned to stay away from the locations bombed by the allied forces and use bottled water only. The sources say that the post retreat US bombings on the Talliban militia in Afghanistan was not targeted on the military installations but various channels of water supply instead. "Water-supply tunnels and sources were targeted with bunker-busting bombs, with the intention to flush out Osama bin Laden, his Al-Qaeda group and the Taliban fighters from the hillside tunnels that riddle the landscape", said a source requesting anonymity.

"The already bombed ancient tunnels were a vital source of water supply to thousands of the border villages adjoining Pakistan." Where it is feared that the US bombardment on Afghanistan could dramatically increase water shortages in the war-torn and drought-stricken country, experts estimate the damage could be far more than what is being expected, given the presence of Depleted Uranium in the water reservoirs. "Not only will the water of the Afghan areas become poisoned, but it will also be extended to many parts of Pakistan as many of the Afghan rivers flow across the border to the neighbouring Pakistan".