22 November 1999
Pristina - American aircraft used so much depleted uranium ammunition during the Nato bombardment of Serbia that US officials are now claiming - to the disbelief of European bomb disposal officers - that they have no idea how many locations may be contaminated by the radioactive dust left behind by their weapons.
British and other ordnance officers ordered to defuse live ammunition in Kosovo have been fobbed off by the US military with "security" objections - and then with statements that no record was kept of depleted uranium (DU) munitions used in the Kosovo war.
A growing number of doctors and scientists suspect that an explosion of cancers in southern Iraq is caused by the US use of depleted uranium tank and aircraft munition warheads during the 1991 Gulf War. British and American doctors have suggested that it may also be a cause of the "Gulf War syndrome", which has caused the death of up to 400 veterans. Despite these fears, Nato this summer refused to assist a UN team investigating the use of depleted uranium munitions in Kosovo.
But information given to The Independent by European military sources in Kosovo demonstrates just why Nato should be so reluctant to tell the truth about the anti-armour ammunition - a waste product of the nuclear industry which burns on impact and releases toxic and radioactive material when it explodes. For it transpires that DU was used by A-10 "tankbuster" aircraft for more than a month in at least 40 locations in Kosovo, many of them "fake" military targets set up by the Serbs to lure pilots away from their tanks and artillery positions.
More tragically, A-10 aircraft used DU ammunition in two attacks against Kosovo Albanian refugees, the first on 14 April on the main road between Djakovica and Prizren. Hundreds of civilians were wounded in these attacks, carried out when Nato pilots - flying at more than 15,000 feet to avoid any injury to themselves - bombed refugee columns in the belief that they were military convoys.
The British Ministry of Defence admits that "ingestion" of DU dust at the time of the explosion "could present a health risk". But Nato has made no attempt to trace the Albanian survivors of these attacks or check their health.
Nor have K-For troops in southern Kosovo been informed that A-10 aircraft used DU-penetrator ammunition on targets around a road at Gradis - west of Prizren - and on a bridge east of Djakovica. Italian K-For troops now manning a checkpoint only a few feet from the craters of a Nato DU bombing at Bistrazin have no idea that depleted uranium dust was scattered over the ground around them seven months ago. Nato sources in Kosovo say that DU was also used in the warheads of some Cruise missiles fired at hardened silos and bunkers around main Serbian towns and cities.
Yugoslav officials say they have no record of depleted uranium in Kosovo because of their army's hurried withdrawal in June - but claim that DU ammunition was used by Nato in areas around Vranje, Bujanovac, Ostojnik mountain and on the Montenegran peninsula of Lustice.
"We've asked the Americans lots of time where they used this stuff," a British ordnance officer told me.
"First - you know the Americans - they said they couldn't tell us for 'security reasons'. Then they said that their A-10s used DU and fired the ammunition whenever they came across Serb armour. They said that because these were 'targets of opportunity', they kept no record of the location or dates of firing.
"I give three pieces of advice to my men if they think they are near DU munition explosions: stay away, stay away and stay away."
The same officer said he had found the remains of only 13 Serb tanks in Kosovo - precisely the same figure for destroyed tanks given by the Serbs after the war and 83 tanks fewer than General Wesley Clark, the supreme Nato commander, claimed his aircraft had destroyed.
But Nato pilots were fooled by wooden models of tanks and armour into attacking hundreds of other locations.
In a rare interview in the Belgrade press this month, Colonel Dr Milan Misovic, a specialist in radioactive protection in the Belgrade military medical school, claimed that the consequences of DU use by Nato may be small on the present generation but that "we'll have to check everything for the next 100 years".