NATO’s UXO list for Libya is Incomplete (Also, a Slight Digression on Laos)

From NYT:

The alliance provided the latitude and longitude for each site, the weight of the ordnance and a description of the means of delivery (fixed-wing aircraft, helicopter gunship or naval vessel)…

For these reasons, the United Nations, which had asked NATO for the data last year, welcomed the list, even though it contained limited information…

But the data has also been a source of disappointment and irritation, because NATO provided no information about the types of unexploded weapons, or the fuzes used to arm each missile or bomb.

Why does it matter, you ask?

This information, along with what are known as “render-safe procedures” for each type of weapon, is considered essential by ordnance-clearance teams. It is routinely recorded by modern military forces, via so-called bomb-build sheets, in which each component of a weapon is documented as a weapon is armed and prepared for an aircraft.

Colin King, a former British Army bomb disposal officer and an analyst for IHS Jane’s, said he could see no reason for NATO to withhold ordnance-specific details. “If the damn thing didn’t go off, why wouldn’t you share what it was?” he asked. “People are going to find it anyway. It’s going to be lying on the ground, and it might cost someone their life.”

“It is irresponsible,” Mr. King added. “You are not going to give away much in the way of vital intelligence by saying what it was.”

You are probably not surprised to read that I am in the same camp as Mr. King on this issue.  You are hopefully also not surprised to find that NATO patted itself on the back while evading pressing questions about matters of life and death:

NATO, which said that it “has contributed to the timely removal of these munitions and therefore to the improvement of security for the Libyan people,” declined to answer why the types of weapons and render-safe procedures were not provided. “We do not comment on technical operational details,” Oana Lungescu, the alliance’s spokeswoman, said by e-mail…

On a positive note, NATO, at least by their own telling, did not employ two munition types of extraordinary humanitarian concern during the Libya operation:

In an e-mail late last year, Col. Gregory Julian, a United States Army officer serving as an alliance spokesman, said NATO and its partners had not used cluster or depleted uranium rounds in Libya. He also said NATO had not used free-falling “dumb bombs.” All of its airstrikes in Libya, he said, were made with guided missiles and bombs…

Finally, the Times reminds us of the the US’ secret bombing of Laos during the Vietnam conflict:

In the 1990s, the United States released extensive data on its bombing of Laos during the Vietnam War, after years of resisting requests from Mines Advisory Group, a nonprofit ordnance-clearance organization in Britain.

The secret bombing of Laos to deny use of the Ho Chi Minh Trail at any cost was a savage abuse of power that leaves the country paralyzed by destitution and fear to this day.  What responsibility have we taken for what we wrought? Cheery factoid from Legacies of War:

The U.S. spent as much in three days bombing Laos ($51M, in 2010 dollars) than it spent for clean up over 16 years ($51M).

The US government should apologize to the people of Laos (and of the US for concealing the truth).  Stop fucking making us be the adults for you:

At Laos’ COPE Center, which provides rehabilitation and prosthetic limbs to UXO victims.
Credit: But For the Sky

Further, the US should offer to take primary responsibility for clearing its UXO in Laos. NATO should take the same responsibility in Libya.


  1. […] posted a couple weeks ago about the US’ obligations to UXO clearance in Laos.  The following was […]

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