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What are cluster munitions? Here’s what the U.S. is giving to Ukraine, and why it’s so controversial

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The Biden administration on Friday said that the U.S. will supply cluster munitions to Ukraine in a controversial move defended by a top official.

Jake Sullivan, President Joe Biden’s national security adviser, told reporters at the White House that the Ukrainians need the weapons to defend their country in the conflict with Russia.

“We will not leave Ukraine defenseless at any point in this conflict,” he said.

What are cluster munitions? These weapons, sometimes also called cluster bombs, open in the air and send down smaller bombs that scatter across landscapes.

They are controversial because those “bomblets” disperse over a large area. And the Biden administration’s decision comes amid concern that those smaller bombs can cause civilian casualties.

But the Pentagon will provide munitions that have a reduced “dud rate,” the Associated Press reported, meaning there will be far fewer unexploded rounds that can result in unintended civilian deaths.

Sullivan said Ukraine has committed to demining efforts after the conflict ends to lessen any potential harm to civilians; in other words, finding any unexploded rounds and removing them.

And U.S. officials have said that Russian forces are already using cluster munitions on the battlefield, and in populated civilian areas.

Russia has not signed on to a treaty banning the use of the weapons, and neither has the U.S. or Ukraine. More than 100 other nations have banned using cluster munitions, however.

Sullivan described the decision as difficult, and one that the U.S. deferred.

“It’s a decision that required a real hard look at the potential harm to civilians.,” he said. And when we put all of that together, there was a unanimous recommendation from the national security team, and President Biden ultimately decided, in consultation with allies and partners and in consultation with members of Congress, to move forward on this strategy.”

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