The lasting danger of Russian cluster bombs in Ukraine

A graphic designer and illustrator, now in his twenties, Worley was one of the lucky kids to escape the bleak fate of cluster bombs. And although the bombings took place long before Worley’s birth, he talks without worry or sense of abnormality about their current consequences, as if coping with the consequences of that dark history was a natural and even daily occurrence in Maltese life.

Stories like Worley’s are sadly common. A popular podcast, My Favorite Murder, even recently aired an episode in which the hosts read a letter from an adult listener who, as a child, had thrown rocks and picked up an unexploded piece of a bomb the size of an explosive device from a beach. concern for the safety of “the beloved sea creatures.”

Historically, 98 percent of cluster bomb victims have been civilians, because of the way the munitions are peppered into an area before — or sometimes even without — sending troops, according to a 2011 study by foreign policy and terrorism expert Beau Grosscup. It was a tactic the Nazis would use to liberate the country they wanted, and ironically they used it heavily against Russia. After a so-called “saturation attack” on a Russian forest, as Leatherwood describes in his book on the subject, a German general said: “German ground troops were able to enter…without encountering any resistance – the forest was really dead.”

The modern Russian PTAB-1M bombs, shown in a recent video of Ukrainian troops gathering them by the hundreds, have evolved since the days of the SD-2 to penetrate tanks and hit areas hundreds of meters in radius. However, both old and modern bombs cannot explode.

Calculated percentages of cluster bomb duds range between 5 and 40 percent, which when multiplied by the massive total number of cluster bombs typically released to create the “saturation effect” yields a terrifying amount of ammunition left behind.

Of the 1,818 U.S. bombs that the U.S. said were sprayed over Afghanistan’s Shomali Valley in the fall of 2001, 17.4 percent failed to explode, leaving more than 300 deadly weapons lurking in that valley alone, according to a study. from 2003 published in Military Medicine. About a third of these were embedded underground, meaning they were impossible to see and could easily be driven off by the foot of an innocent pedestrian. In 2003, at least three children had been injured because they believed that American bombs found in the Shomali Valley were toys.

A Ukrainian soldier displays a captured Russian anti-aircraft vest and casing from a cluster bomb missile as Ukrainian army troops dig into the frontline of trenches to fend off Russian attacks east of the strategic port city of Mykolaiv, Ukraine, on March 10, 2022.

Photo: Scott Peterson/Getty Images

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