Above the Law and Below Morality: Data on 11 Weeks of U.S. Cluster-Bombing of Afghanistan
['shining like a diamond,' death comes in a little yellow soda can]

Professor Marc W. Herold
Ph.D., M.B.A., B.Sc.

"SOME OF the most savage weapons of modern warfare." That’s how one BBC journalist described cluster bombs, the U.S. military’s latest weapon of choice in Afghanistan. It's also deadly and cheap.


On October 10th, 2001, U.S. B-52s and B-1s began dropping deadly 1,000 lb. CBU-87 [$14,000 a bomb] and the wind-corrected CBU-103 cluster [fragmentation] bombs upon "soft targets" [vehicles and people] in Afghanistan.

Eleven weeks later, U.S.planes had dropped 1,210 cluster bombs, each containing 202 BLU-97 bomblets. The British Halo Trust now estimates on the basis of groundwork in the vales of Afghanistan that 20% of the bomblets failed to explode, meaning 48,884 yellow soda-can sized, yellow-colored deadly sub-munitions now litter the villages, paths and fields of Afghanistan.

During the Kosovo air campaign, U.S. and allied planes dropped 1,392 cluster bombs, with a reported fail rate of 8-12%. In the Gulf War, Allied forces dropped 62,000 air-delivered cluster bombs. The British group, Landmine Action, says that over 13 million bomblets were used in the 1991 Gulf War and 1.2 million explosive duds cover Iraq and Kuwait. Pentagon estimates suggest some 285 million such sub-munitions were dropped on Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos.

A favorite U.S. weapon used in Afghanistan has been the 1,000 lb CBU-87 cluster bomb with its 202 BLU-97 bomblets. The BLU-97 cluster bomblet is one of the cheapest air-delivered weapons available, costing only ~$60 per unit. Unlike most American mines, cluster bomblets are not designed to break down over time as this would raise their low cost.3A single BLU-97 bomblet kills anyone within a 50 meter radius and severely injures a person within 100 meters. It is considered more dangerous than a conventional land mine. Peter Le Sueur, technical adviser to the UN's Mine Action Program Afghanistan [MAPA] describes this weapon,

"the BLU 97 had three purposes -- to destroy armoured vehicles, kill people with shrapnel fragments and ignite fires in military targets such as munition dumps or oil depots."

According to Le Sueur, one of its most savage features is its six-millimetre diamond-patterned steel jacket. "When the bomb explodes, the steel splits so you get hundreds of high-velocity steel fragments travelling at the speed of a rifle bullet. "They can kill or injure people from over 100 metres (330 feet) from the point of detonation".3

On New Year's Day, 2002, the United Nations' UNIC Director Eric Falt disclosed that U.S. planes had dropped cluster bombs in 103 cities of Afghanistan and possibly in another 25.5 The areas around Herat, the Shomali Plain and Tora Bora were particularly hard hit with cluster bombs. More than 600 cluster-bombs were dropped by U.S. planes in the Shomali plain region alone during the five weeks the U.S. planes pounded Taliban positions.6

The villages of Denar Kheil, Kalakhan and Qarabagh were particularly hard hit, being covered by BLU-97s. Early on November 10, 2001, CBU-87 bombs were dropped upon Denar Kheil in the Shomali Plain. Between January 9 - 20th , a de-mining team found 100 active BLU-97 bomblets in the village.7 It is believed that snow, sand and mud in Afghanistan make it even more likely that the bomblets are not exploding [hence the higher reported dud rate].

The CBU-87, 1,000 lb. bomb was developed by the Aerojet General Corporation in 1983 [entering service in 1986 replacing Vietnam era cluster bombs] which produced it along with the Alliant Techsystems Inc. [Hopkins, Minnesota]. Today, the CBU-87s are assembled in an Army factory in southern Kansas, from parts supplied by Honeywell [Minnesota] and Aerojet [Sacramento, California].

The 'mother bomb' carries 202 bright yellow bomblets, each the size of a soda can (see photo). The mother bomb explodes about 300-400 feet above earth and the 202 bomblets are dispersed with little parachutes. They are supposed to explode upon landing, but at least 5% do not. Cluster bombs (right) look like food aid dropped from planes (left) The CBU-87's 'footprint' is about 400x800 meters. Each bomblet, in turn, fragments into 300 steel fragments, making for a total of 60,600 fragments per CBU-87 bomb. One CBU-87 spreads bomblets over about three football fields. One B1-B 'Lancer' bomber can carry 30 CBU-87 bombs.8 A B-52 carries 40 CBU-87s, with a total hence of 8,080 BLU-97 cluster bomblets!

Cluster bombs are anti-vehicle and anti-personnel weapons. They kill people without destroying property. They also serve as land mines and detonate later, even years later, when they are unearthed. The Times noted that the U.S. lobbied at a landmine conference some years ago against classifying cluster bombs as landmines.9 But they serve this secondary and murderous purpose: "35,000 unexploded bomblets in Kosovo still kill one person a week," the paper noted. They are still killing people in Laos, 30 years after the war there ended: 30 years after being dropped from U.S. planes, one Laotian a month dies of a cluster bomblet.10

Nazeer Ahmad, de-miner for the Organization for Mine Clearance and Afghan Rehabilitation [OMAR] based in Jalalabad, says,

"We completely forgot about the Russian bombs and mines when we saw American cluster bombs. They are horrible things. Nobody knows how to detect them and nobody knows how to destroy them. In Herat when Americans dropped cluster bombs, there were little bomblets that were yellow color. Children thought they might be food. Thirty have been killed and 25 wounded by cluster bombs."11

Suzanne Goldenberg reports from Herat that at least 41 persons have been killed and 46 injured by cluster bombs in the area since the bombing ceased.12 Farnaz Fassihi reported for the Newhouse News Service in late December how "at the Wazir Akbar Khan Hospital in Kabul, all the beds in the children's ward are occupied by youngsters injured by cluster bomblets."13

As Mark Baker writes, the terror began just after midnight on October 22nd in Shaker Qala when villagers were awakened from their sleep by the sound of aircraft . Moments later bombs were raining down. Two hours later, eight people had perished, dozens were wounded. Villagers scrambled from their homes, putting the wounded on carts to take them to Herat's hospital four kilometers away. A new danger lurked in the guise of yellow soda cans scattered through the village's narrow lanes and adjacent fields.

The first victim of an unexploded cluster bomb was blown up in Shakar Qala, outside Herat:

"The UN confirmed that eight people had been killed immediately in the attack on Shakar Qala, and a ninth had died after picking up the parachutes attached to the bombs."
“He went to look at the object, touched it and it blew up,” Stephanie Bunker, a spokeswoman, said. Fourteen others were injured and 20 of the village’s 45 houses were destroyed or badly damaged.."15

The attack upon Shakar Qala reportedly scattered 200 pieces of unexploded ordnance across the village.

On Wednesday, November 21st, twelve-year old Mohibollah was out collecting firewood in a shabby neighborhood on the edge of Herat. Minutes later, he was running down the street screaming, his face splattered with blood. A stump of flesh, smashed bones and mangled fingers dangled from his left arm. He was a victim of the legacy of a Monday night bombing attack on October 22nd, when U.S. planes dropped cluster bombs upon the village of Qali-e-Shater [Shakar Qala], two miles northeast of Herat.

The attack itself killed eight immediately with a ninth dying from an unexploded bomblet the next day. The U.S. attack also destroyed 30 of the hamlet's 45 homes. The intended target was a Taliban base two kilometers away. A resident, Abodolahad, recounted how eight bomblets landed on his house, peppering the walls with shrapnel and killing his brother. But four of the bomblets failed to explode, forcing the family out to live with neighbors. Another recent report describes the cluster-bombing of Qala Shater village:

"At least six of the bomblets parachuted to earth in the narrow passageway linking the Farid family compound to the road, bursting through a mudwall and gouging out chunks of plaster from the main home. One family member died, two teen-aged neighbors were killed, and two unexploded bomblets remained behind.
At first, the family waited, and then they decided to try their luck. A friend of Ahmed Farid, 26, after trying defusing techniques, decided to hurl a bomblet into the courtyard of an abandoned home next door. Unfortunately, Ahmed was crossing the courtyard. Fiery bits of shrapnel burnt a series of almond-sized scars from right shoulder to calf, and put the iron worker in the hospital for two days…"17

Since the bombing, 12 more civilians have died. Rains in mid-January have washed cluster bomblets downstream. And more than a month later, the United Nations Mine Action local staff reported completing the destruction of cluster bombs in 54 homes and a mosque in the village of Qali-e-Shater.18

On December 7th, in Sakhsalmun, a village about four kilometers outside Herat, it was a family's visit to a relative's home.19 The kids didn't want to stay inside listening to grown-up talk and raced outside. Abdul Nasir, 14, and others scrambled up the hillside next to the hamlet. They came across the little yellow soda can with a parachute attached to it. One boy picked it up and it went off. His body was shredded. Abdul Nasir was comparatively lucky: his jaw was badly broken and one of his hands sliced between his two middle fingers. In early December, he sat in the surgical ward at the Herat Red Cross Hospital. U.S. planes had cluster-bombed Sakhsalmun earlier, close to a former Taliban garrison, and four civilians had been killed by U.S. bombs which missed their target.

According to official data of the local de-mining organizations and the regional hospital in Herat, 38 deaths and an unknown number of injured people due to cluster bombs have been registered. However, some doctors at the Herat regional hospital in January 2002, believe this number is much higher. In the village of Qala Shakar near Herat city alone, 12 people died and more than 20 were injured due to cluster bombs.20 In the village of Rabat, 1/2 hour west of Herat, 10 civilians have died since U.S. bombing ceased in early November.

Tuesday, October 30th Day after heavy cluster bomb raid upon village of Jebrael in western Herat which killed 12 persons, a child picks up a bomblet and is killed.21
Thursday, November 1st , One killed and one injured in Ishaq Sulaiman village near Herat.
Tuesday, November 6th, in the Kharam border district of Pakistan, a shepherd, Mohammed Esa, picks up a strange object which explodes, injuring him.
Wednesday, November 7th, One civilian is killed and another injured by an unexploded cluster bomblet in the village of Ishaq Sulaiman Zai, near Herat22.
Saturday, November 17th, village of Charikari, near Khanabad/Kunduz heavily cluster-bombed.23
Wednesday,November 21st, Twelve year old Mohibollah was seriously maimed -- his face splattered in blood and a stump of flesh, smashed bones and mangled fingers dangling from his left arm---when a cluster bomblet [dropped on October 22nd ] exploded as he was gathering firewood in the poor neighborhood of Qali-e-Shater on the outskirts of Herat.24
Sunday, November 25th, Kalakhan village 12 miles north of Kabul. A farmer, Gholam Khader, 45, returns to his village at 7 a.m. and is killed as he walks on one of the CBU-87's 202 bomblets. Another is injured.25 A de-mining crew found 40 BLU-97 bomblets there on November 26th.
Sunday, November 25th, One killed and one injured in Qarabagh, a front-line town heavily bombed by B-52s on November 9-10. The village of Denar Kheil was heavily cluster-bombed too.
Tuesday, November 27th, village of Qala Shatar near Herat, a 12-year-old boy picks up the bright yellow soda-can sized bomblet, loses his arm. A second 8-year-old boy is injured. The boys were walking to school. Earlier, one civilian was killed and another injured in the village of Ishaq Sulaiman after picking up a cluster bomblet.
Tuesday, November 27th, village of Zar Karez north of the Kandahar-Pakistan highway. A cluster bomb falls upon a semi-nomadic village, injuring two severely.
Tuesaday, November 27th, Shamshad village in Nangarhar province. Three children were killed and seven were injured when a cluster bomblet exploded as the children were scavenging through heaps of scrap iron to sell to vendors.26 Shamshad had been heavily hit by U.S. planes on November 18-19th, killing ~40 villagers.
December 3rd, village of Mengchuqur in northern Tokhar province. Islamudin, 20, is blown up when he picks up an unexploded cluster bomb. He had just returned, having fled in 1998. On his first day home, he had gone out to look at what remained of his sister's house and spotted a bright metal object.27
December 7th, village of Sakhsalmun, 4 kms. outside Herat. One boy was killed and one injured, Abul Nasir aged 14, when they played with a cluster bomb.28
December, village of Rabat west of Herat. The bomblets dropped in early November scattered in an area more than 1.6 kms away from a Taliban base. Three children injured when picking up cluster bomb, on their way to a wedding. Farmers are killed in areas they try to begin planting wheat and tending to vineyards.29
Late December. In a refugee camp in Herat, two children [aged 9 and 10] are killed and 2 others injured when they are collecting firewood and a BLU-97 bomblet explodes.
Jan. 1-21. Mazar-i-Sharif area. The Halo Trust reports that seven children have been killed while playing with bomblets in a village near Mazar.30

More than 10 Afghans are killed or injured each day from unexploded ordnance. And nearly one out of 10 families has a member who has been disabled by mines or other unexploded ordnance. The situation is magnified insofar as the location of such unexploded munitions:

"At present, almost half of the 725 square kilometers of land identified as minefields is concentrated in the urban areas where Afghans live, or in the small percentage of Afghanistan's fertile land where Afghans raise crops or livestock."31

A case in point is the village of Shaker Qala, where for many days villagers remained cloistered inside their homes fearing to emerge because of cluster bombs scattered through the entire village. Farmers returning to regions around Herat and in the once fertile Shomali plain [wheat and orchards] have been particularly vulnerable to unexploded cluster bomblets.

Widely decried by over 50 humanitarian and medical groups across the world, the U.S. defends its use of cluster bombs as an appropriate response to the killings at the World Trade Center. The French Nobel-prize [1999] winning organization, Doctors Without Borders, finds cluster bombs being indiscriminate weapons and based upon the provisions in the Geneva Protocol their use is thus prohibited [Additional Protocol I, Art. 51, 4 and 5b]. The International Red Cross called for an international ban on cluster bombs in September 2000.33

The casing of a CBU-87 bomb found in Tora Bora had a hand-stenciled note on it, "this is gonna shine like a diamond in a goat's ass - Gary."34

Is the United States above international humanitarian law and below the standards of international morality?

Source: Jonathan Marcus, "Analysis: Why Use Cluster Bombs?" BBC News Online [August 2, 2000].


1 data from United Nations Mine Action Programme in Afghanistan, reported in Naveed Ahmad, "Coalition Provides Information About Sub-Munitions in Struck Areas," Daily Jang [December 22, 2001], also reported in Asia Times [January 3, 2002]. See also the report by Human Rights Watch, "Cluster Bombs Litter Afghanistan" [New York: Human Rights Watch, November 16, 2001] and Naveed Ahmad, "UN to Clear 103 Afghan Cities of Cluster Bombs," Daily Jang [January 2, 2002].

2 Scott Canon, "Leftover Bomblets Leave Big Questions. Are Cluster Bombs Necessary or Unethical?" Pittsburgh Post-Gazette [November 4, 2001]: A12.

3 "Taliban Appeal Against US' Use of Cluster Bombs," Hindustan Times [October 26, 2001].

4 from Mike Williams, "Bomb Damage at Tora Bora Shows Ferocity of U.S.Response," Cox News [December 12, 2001].

5 "Cluster Bombs Dropped in 103 Afghan Cities," Paknews.com January 1, 2002.

6 Carol J. Williams, "Work to Root Out a Buried Foe Gains Urgency in Afghanistan," Los Angeles Times [December 24, 2001].

7 Elizabeth Neuffer, "Fighting Terror After the Battle. Unexploded Bomblets Mine Villages," Boston Globe [January 20, 2002]: A23.

8 www.fas.org/man/dod-101/sys/dumb/cbu-87.htm ; and "Members Fight for Guns and Butter," Washington Post [May 1, 1990]; and Paul Watson and Lisa Getter, "Silent Peril Lies in Wait for Afghanistan's People," Los Angeles Times [December 1, 2001].

9 Simon Jenkins, "Cluster Bombs: These Are Land Mines by Any Other Name," The Times [October 26, 2001]. On Laos, see Matt Warren, "Afghanistan Set to Share Legacy of Death That Cluster-Bombing Left in Indochina," The Scotsman [November 5, 2001], at : www.zmag.org/warrencluster.htm . See also Titus Peachey and Virgil Wiebe, "Appendix 1: Laos. The Air War" [Mennonite Central Committee, November 2000], at www.mcc.org/clusterbomb/report/laos_appendix.html

10 from Heather Cottin, "What Kind of War is This? A Murder of Innocents and a Plunder of Resources" {New York: International Action Center, no date].

11 Scott Baldauf, "Help for Survivors of Afghanistan's Land Mines," Christian Science Monitor [January 4, 2002]

12 Suzanne Goldenberg, "Long After the Air Raids, Bomblets Bring More Death," The Guardian [January 28, 2002].

13 Farnaz Fassihi, "At Every Step on Afghan Soil, Death Lurks Underneath," Newhouse Newsw Serevice [December 28, 2001].

14 Mark Baker, "If the Cluster Bombs Don't Get You, the Mines Might," Sydney Morning Herald [October 26, 2001].

15 from Landmine Action News, "Cluster Bombs Are New Dangers toMine Clearers," [October 26, 2001].

16 Jon Hemming, Reuters, "Unexploded Cluster Bomb Maims Afghan Boy," The Hindustan Times [November 21, 2001].

17 Goldenberg,op. cit.

18 "Landmine Kills 2 Children in Heart: UN," Dawn [November 30, 2001].

19 from Hamish McDonald, "Death Comes in a Little Yellow Package," Sydney Morning Herald [December 17, 2001].

20 Medecins Sans Frontieres, "Cluster Bombs the Legacy to Afghan Population," Relief Web [January 18, 2002]

21 "Air Strikes Continue, U.S.TakesOer Airaves," Times of India [October 31, 2001].

22 UN Integrated Regional Information Network, "Afghanistan: Focus on the Risk of Unexploded Ordnance," November 7, 2001.

23 The after-effects of cluster-bombing are well-captured in C.J. Chiers, "An Afghan Village Where Errant Bombs Fell and Killed, and Still Lurk in Wait," New York Times [December 12, 2001].

24 Jon Hemming [Reuters], "Unexploded Cluster Bomb Maims Afghan Boy," Hindustan Times [November 21, 2001].

25 P. Watson and L. Getter, "Weapons: Unexploded Bomblets' Toll on Civilians Has Renewed Controversy Over Their Use," Los Angeles Times [December 1, 2001].

26 "Three Afghan Children Die in Cluster Bomb Explosion," Out There News/AUSAF [November 27, 2001].

27 Anna Badkhen, "Unexploded Bombs Ticking for Children," San Francisco Chronicle [December 3, 2001]: A1.

28 Hamish McDonald, "The War is Over, But the Loss of Innocents Continues," The Age [December 17, 2001].

29 Goldenberg, op. cit.

30 Elizabeth Neuffer, op. cit.

31 Baldauf, op. cit.

32 Richard Beeston and Helen Rumbelow, "Allies Defend Cluster Bombs," The Times [October 29, 2001].

33 Alexander G. Higgins, "Red Cross Urges Cluster Bomb Halt," The Associated Press [September 5, 2000]. Other groups are engaged in a campaign to ban cluster bombs, see "Campaign Targets 'Lethal' Cluster Bombs," BBC News Online [December 2, 2001].

34 from Mike Williams, "Bomb Damage at Tora Bora Shows Ferocity of U.S.Response," Cox News [December 12, 2001].


US evens the score in Afghanistan

Lost in the Crosshairs

An Average Day in Afghanistan

Marc Herold replies to a critic

Al-Ahram Weekly (Egypt)
January 24, 2002

The Afghan Killing Fields

Sydney Morning Herald
January 26, 2002

U.S. Silence and Power of Weaponry Conceal Scale of Civilian Toll

January 23, 2001

Bring Out Your Dead Tallying up the casualties in the face of indifference

January 6, 2002

Recent 'Success' Tally of U.S. Bombs:
Over 200 Civilians are Killed to Get 1.5 Taliban Leaders

January 6, 2002

Afghanistan War Produces High Civilians-Killed-Per- Bomb-Dropped Ratio

Appendix 5
Spatial Distribution of Afghan Civilian Casualties Caused by the U.S. Air War, October 7 - December 6th.

Appendix 4
Daily Casualty Count of Afghan Civilians Killed in U.S. Bombing Attacks

An Average Day in Afghanistan
December 29, 2001

The Mirror
January 19, 2002

Americans and Afghans Unite in Pain

Working for Change
January 18, 2002

Tears and Rage

Afghan Civilian Casualties Make the NYT Only Through the Backdoor

Village Voice
January 17, 2002

Beyond an Eye For an Eye

Afghan Casualties Outnumber WTC Dead

New Zealand Herald
January 17, 2002

When the Body Count Doesn't Count

Sydney Morning Herald
January 12, 2002
Civilian Deaths No Cause for Concern:
The Pentagon doesn't keep count, and the media keep silent

Dallas Morning News
January 10, 2002
Collateral Tragedies
U.S. can't ignore civilian deaths

Irish Times
January 10, 2002
U.S. Massacre Entirely Fails to Move Us

Frontline (India)
January 5, 2002

The Human Cost of the War

January 4, 2002
Afghan Government Silent on U.S. Bombing Casualties

January 4, 2002
Trolling the Web for Afghan Dead

Washington Post
January 4, 2002
More Bombing Casualties Alleged

Times of London
January 2, 2002
'Precision Weapons Fail to Prevent Mass Civilian Casualties

Agence France-Presse
December 30, 2001
Terror From the Sky
Survivors return to the village that still smells of death

December 28, 2001
Civilian Bodies
On the recognition of death

Chicago Tribune
December 28, 2001
U.S. Bombs Leave Wasteland
Fierce attacks anger villagers, raise questions

Al-Ahram Weekly
December 27, 2001
Killing Off the Extras

December 27, 2001
Inviting Future Terrorism
Rising Afghan death count and U.S. policy on Mideast

The Guardian
December 20, 2001
The Innocent Dead in a Coward's War
Estimates suggest US bombs have killed at least 3,767 civilians

Houston Chronicle
December 20, 2001
We Can't Just Forget About Dead Afghan Civilians

San Francisco Bay Guardian
December 20, 2001
Life During Wartime
Destroying Afghanistan to save it

December 18, 2001
The Forgotten Dead
Do you know how many have died? Didnšt think so.

December 17, 2001
Civilian Casualties: Theirs and Ours

New York Times
December 15, 2001
An Unlucky Place
An Afghan village where errant bombs fell and killed, and still lurk in wait

December 13, 2001
Bombing & Starvation
Civilian casualties in Afghanistan

December 13, 2001
What's Not In The News
Why we aren't hearing the whole story from Afghanistan

Common Dreams
December 13, 2001
Ari & I
White House press briefing with Ari Fleischer: Second question, a professor at the University of New Hampshire reported...

December 12, 2001
How Many Dead?
U.S. TV networks aren't counting

December 11, 2001
U.S. Wages Overkill in Afghanistan

Common Dreams
December 10, 2001
More Than 3,500 Civilians Killed by U.S. Bombs
University of New Hampshire Economics professor releases study of civilian casualties in Afghanistan

December 7. 2001
Denying the Dead
In Pentagon reports of Afghan dead, truth is the first casualty

November 8, 2001
Civilian Casualties Not News on FOX News

November 2, 2001
Moral Equivalence
How many Afghan civilians is the life of one American soldier worth?

(New Zealand)
October 26, 2001
Bush's War Threatens Millions With Starvation
Norm Dixon

Coming in January from Freedom Voices Press & City Lights Publishers:

"September 11 and the U.S. War: Beyond the Curtain of Smoke"

Contributors include:
Wendell Berry
Jeff Cohen
Robert Fisk
Eduardo Galeano
Marc Herold
Michael Klare
Ted Rall
Norman Solomon