WASHINGTON -- U.S. Air Force planes and Army artillery that showered millions of bomblets on Iraqi troops left a lethal battlefield residue that killed at least 14 Americans and wounded more than 100 soldiers during the ground phase of Operation Desert Storm, according to U.S. military officials.
A Newsday investigation revealed that the cluster munitions -- explosives ranging in size from a 35mm roll of film to a softball -- caused more U.S. casualties in some instances than Iraqi troops during the four-day ground war.
Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney and senior Army commanders have presented the cluster munitions operation as another in a series of success stories emerging from Desert Storm. In a report to Congress, Cheney said these indirect fire systems "contributed to the success of the land campaign."
There was no hint in Cheney's report of the bomblet dud rate and its impact on U.S. casualties. But interviews with members of Army Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf's Desert Storm staff and battlefield commanders showed U.S. soldiers were killed and maimed during combat and during lulls in the fighting when individuals and groups either stumbled on or "played" with bomblets despite repeated warnings to leave such battlefield munitions untouched.
"It was a serious problem," said Air Force Lt. Gen. Charles Horner, who directed the Desert Storm air war. During an interview, he said Air Force cluster bombs intended to halt Iraqi troops fleeing Kuwait may have injured U.S. Army troops that occupied the area days later.
While the Army bomblets involved were designed to detonate on contact, thousands remain unexploded on the ground. The Air Force munitions, such as the CBU 89 Gator bomblets and the CBU 52, are designed to leave unexploded devices, acting as air-dropped land mines.