Cluster bombs resemble food aid

LONDON - The U.S. has been forced to broadcast radio messages warning the people of Afghanistan not to confuse food parcels with cluster bombs that are also being dropped over parts of the country. In an embarrassing admission of the danger posed by such weapons, the U.S. has warned that from a distance the two items could be mistaken - both are roughly the same size and both are bright yellow.

'Attention, noble Afghan people,' starts the message broadcast in both Pashto and Dari. 'As you know, the coalition countries have been air dropping daily humanitarian rations for you. The food ration is enclosed in yellow plastic bags. They come in the shape of rectangular or long squares.

'In areas away from where food has been dropped, cluster bombs will also be dropped. The color of these bombs is also yellow. All bombs will explode when they hit the ground, but in some special circumstances some of the bombs will not explode.'

A Pentagon spokesman yesterday confirmed that the broadcasts were being carried out but denied there was any embarrassment to the U.S.

Cluster bombs are canisters, which break open on impact with the ground to scatter, smaller so-called 'bomblets.' It is estimated that these bomblets have a dud rate of about 5 percent and can lie buried 'live' in the ground for years until something detonates them. They have been condemned by various humanitarian organizations for the indiscriminate way they can injure civilians.

While Britain has not dropped cluster bombs in Afghanistan, its position on their use is no different than that of the United States. The Secretary of State for Defense, Geoff Hoon, told the Commons that they had been used in Afghanistan on a 'limited number of occasions against the particular military threat of armored vehicles.'

Labor Member of Parliament Ann Clwyd told the House of Commons: 'It is known very well that cluster bombs are, unfortunately, anti-personnel mines as well. They can destroy innocent civilians in much the same way as land mines.'

The radio message is being broadcast by the U.S. using specially designed EC-130E Commando Solo planes bristling with electronic equipment to broadcast messages as well as jam other transmissions.

It informs the Afghan population: 'In the future, cluster bombs will not be dropped in areas where food is air-dropped. 'However, we do not wish to see an innocent civilian mistake the bombs for food bags and take one away believing that it might contain food.'