The Biden administration will for the first time send controversial depleted-uranium munitions to Ukraine as part of a new package of aid to be announced Wednesday, according to a U.S. official with knowledge of the discussions.
The decision comes after months of debate over the armor-piercing rounds, which are expected to be highly effective against Russian tanks. While the U.K. has already sent the same type of ammunition to Ukraine to arm its Challenger 2 tanks, this marks the first time the U.S. is sending the rounds. Officials interviewed for this story were granted anonymity to speak ahead of the announcement.
Reuters first reported last week that the U.S. had decided to send the rounds. The Wall Street Journal reported in June that the administration was considering the shipment. During a Tuesday briefing, Pentagon spokesperson Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder declined to comment on whether the U.S. would send the munitions.
Although depleted uranium is a byproduct of uranium enrichment, U.S. officials say the munitions are common and do not present a radioactive threat. They cite studies by the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog, showing “the existence of depleted uranium residues dispersed in the environment does not pose a radiological hazard to the population of the affected regions.”
However, opponents such as the International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons say there are dangerous health risks, including cancer, from touching or ingesting depleted-uranium dust.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has accused Britain of sending “weapons with a nuclear component,” prompting concerns that Moscow is using disinformation about the weapon to spread anti-Western propaganda
Still, U.S. officials ultimately decided to send the munitions because they are considered the most effective way of arming U.S.-made Abrams tanks, according to a Defense Department official familiar with the plans. The first tranche of 10 Abrams will arrive in Ukraine in mid-September, after a group of Ukrainian soldiers finished a training program to use them last month, POLITICO first reported.
The move to send the depleted-uranium weapons comes on the heels of the White House’s decision to send Ukraine cluster munitions, which are banned by more than 100 countries because of the danger to civilians from unexploded ordnance.
U.S. officials hope the new Abrams tanks can help Ukraine in its counteroffensive, which has been making slow progress in the country’s southeast.
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