The weapons are notorious for their effects on civilians. But five years of reporting and hundreds of interviews have revealed they’ve also killed and wounded scores of Americans.
Staff Sgt. Michael S. Crick huddled in the howling wind and wrote in his diary. It was just past noon on Feb. 26, 1991, the third day of the American-led invasion of Iraq during the Persian Gulf war. The day before, a French and American force had seized As Salman airfield, an Iraqi military installation about 70 miles from the Saudi Arabian border.
In a sandstorm driven by cool desert winds, Crick and three fellow explosive-ordnance disposal technicians discovered the presence of small yellow cylinders on the ground where coalition warplanes had struck. “Found about 10 to 15 BLU-97/B bomblets,” he wrote. Since mid-January, the allies had repeatedly blanketed As Salman in cluster munitions, as they had done with other military targets across Iraq and Kuwait.
Crick’s team was working for the 27th Engineer Battalion, which was supporting the French Sixth Light Armored Division. Later in the same day on which the invading column had captured the airfield, the engineers told Crick and the senior-ranking bomb technician, Staff Sgt. Scott Bartow, that the E.O.D. soldiers were to dispose of any large bombs on the runway and that the engineers would handle the rest, including cluster-munition bomblets and mines.
Bartow and Crick were concerned, but they were not in charge; though they were the experts in the defusing and disposing of munitions, the engineer officers outranked them and disregarded their advice. “Want to leave these people ASAP,” Crick wrote. “Got a bad feeling.” (end of excerpt)
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