Saturday, June 21, 2008


The Sunday Times breaks a story:

Army 'vacuum' missile hits Taliban

June 22 - British forces in Afghanistan have used one of the world’s most deadly and controversial missiles to fight the Taliban.

Apache attack helicopters have fired the thermobaric weapons against fighters in buildings and caves, to create a pressure wave which sucks the air out of victims, shreds their internal organs and crushes their bodies.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has admitted to the use of the weapons, condemned by human rights groups as “brutal”, on several occasions, including against a cave complex.

The use of the Hellfire AGM-114N weapons has been deemed so successful they will now be fired from RAF Reaper unmanned drones controlled by “pilots” at Creech air force base in Nevada, an MoD spokesman added.

Thermobaric weapons, or vacuum bombs, were first combat-tested by the Soviet Union in Afghanistan in the 1980s and their use by Russia against civilians in Chechnya in the 1990s was condemned worldwide...

The weapons are so controversial that MoD weapons and legal experts spent 18 months debating whether British troops could use them without breaking international law.

Eventually, they decided to get round the ethical problems by redefining the weapons.

“We no longer accept the term thermobaric [for the AGM-114N] as there is no internationally agreed definition,” said an MoD spokesman. “We call it an enhanced blast weapon.” ...

Human Rights Watch argues they are “particularly brutal” and that their blast “makes it virtually impossible for civilians to take shelter”... (link)
You can find a Human Rights Watch backgrounder on vacuum bombs here. Note that HRW writes that "because they are wide-area weapons, military forces must exercise extreme caution and refrain from using them in or near population centers." Yet Global Security notes that the AGM-114N is commonly used by American forces as part of Military Operations in Urban Terrain (MOUT).Pajhwok Afghan News relates that NATO forces recently used cruise missiles:
NATO forces fire cruise missiles in Zadran
By Abdul Saboor Mangal and Khan Wali Salarzai

ASADABAD/KHOST CITY, June 8 (PAN) - NATO forces have fired small Cruise missiles into Zadran area of the southeastern Khost province targeting suspected Taliban hideouts.

A NATO press officer in the Regional Command Southeast in Khost told Pajhwok Afghan News that the alliance forces have bombed some targets in Zadran area in the past two days and have destroyed 'a number of Taliban hideouts' with severe casualties to the militants... (link)
While cruise missiles are known to have been used in the early days of Operation Enduring Freedom, one rarely hears about continued use in the war.

In other weapons-related news:
Russia, US agree deal on Moscow arms for Afghanistan: ministers

June 20 (AFP) - Moscow and Washington have agreed a deal in principle over the supply of Russian weaponry to the Afghan army in its fight against the Taliban insurgency, senior diplomats announced in a statement Friday.

The deal was signed in the Russian capital as part of the United States-Russia Working Group on Counterterrorism (CTWG), although no immediate figures were put on any Russian supplies... (link)

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