Four Republican leaders of House and Senate foreign relations and armed services committees are urging President Joe Biden to waive a ban on cluster bombs and send them to Ukraine to help them beat back Russia.
The request was made in a letter to Biden from Sens. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, and Roger Wicker, R-Miss., ranking members of the Senate Foreign Relations and Armed Services committees, and Reps. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, and Mike Rogers, R-Ala., chairs of the House Foreign Relations and Armed Services committees, according to reports.
"We write to urge you to immediately provide cluster munitions, such as dual purpose improved conventional munitions (DPICM), to the Ukrainian Armed forces," the letter, posted to Twitter and reported by Politico, began.
The GOP leaders denounced the Biden administration's slow-walking of lethal aid to Ukraine to date, specifically the "highly effective" DPICM.
The Pentagon has as many as 3 million cluster shells in its stockpile, according to Politico, after not having used them in years and the weapons being banned by more than 120 countries.
Ukraine had broadened a request for controversial cluster bombs from the United States to include a weapon that it wants to cannibalize to drop the anti-armor bomblets it contains on Russian forces from drones, according to two House Armed Services Committee Democrats, Reps. Jason Crow, D-Colo., and Adam Smith, D-Wash.
Kyiv has urged members of Congress to press the White House to approve sending the weapons but it is by no means certain the Biden administration will sign off. Cluster munitions normally release large numbers of smaller bomblets that can kill indiscriminately over a wide area, threatening civilians.
Ukraine is seeking the MK-20, an air-delivered cluster bomb, to release its individual explosives from drones, according to the Democrats.
Ukrainian officials urged U.S. lawmakers at last month's Munich Security Conference to press for White House approval. Ukraine hopes cluster munitions will give it an edge in the grinding fight against Russian forces in eastern Ukraine.
Ukraine wants the artillery rounds to halt the kinds of "human wave" attacks that Russia has mounted in its months-long drive to overrun the ruined eastern city of Bakhmut, the lawmakers said.
Each shell disperses 88 submunitions.
The MK-20 is delivered by aircraft. It opens in mid-flight, releasing more than 240 dart-like submunitions, or bomblets.
The Ukrainian military believes these submunitions "have better armor-piercing capability" than the weapons it has been dropping from drones, according to Smith, the Armed Services Committee ranking member.
Ukraine, battling an enemy with more manpower and weaponry, has used drones extensively for surveillance and for dropping explosives on Russian forces.
Crow, a U.S. Army veteran, said he might support giving the MK-20 with assurances Ukrainians would remove the bomblets and "use them in a noncluster employment."
Production of the MK-20s ended years ago, but the U.S. military retains a stockpile of the Cold War-era weapon.
Ukrainian officials also privately have been lobbying lawmakers in Washington to press for White House approval.
"That's not going to happen," Smith said of the Biden administration signing off.
"This is a war where [the Ukrainians] are outmanned," Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told Reuters. "And cluster munitions really are pretty lethal to mass formations as well as armor. In the areas where they are going to use this stuff there are no civilians."
A 2009 law bans exports of U.S. cluster munitions with bomblet failure rates higher than 1%, which covers virtually all of the U.S. military stockpile. Biden can waive the prohibition.
Providing cluster bombs would ease shortages of 155 mm shells that Washington has been shipping to Kyiv in massive quantities, according to the lawmakers.
Crow said he opposed providing the DCIPM to Ukraine because of the high failure rate of the bomblets, which would worsen Ukraine's already massive unexploded ordnance problem.
Opponents of waiving the ban would put Ukraine in a public relations bind that Russia's Vladimir Putin gets in because of deploying inaccurate weapons that puts civilians at risk.
Background information from Reuters was used in this report.
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