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Pentagon Defends Use of Depleted Uranium Ammunition - 2003-03-14

Anticipating complaints over the use of depleted uranium weapons in any new war with Iraq, U.S. military officials have staged a pre-emptive strike of their own against critics.

In another of its series of special topic pre-war briefings, the Pentagon Friday brought in specialists to discuss - and defend - the use by American tanks and planes of ammunition made of depleted uranium.

The officials insist anew that such ammunition does not pose a health hazard. One of them, Army Colonel James Naughton, tells reporters those critics calling on the Pentagon to abandon the use of depleted uranium (DU) include those of Iraqis who fear its effect. "Why do they want it to go away? They want it to go away because we kicked the crap out of them," he said. "OK? There's no doubt that DU gave us a huge advantage over their tanks."

The colonel says Iraq lost a lot of its tanks in the 1991 Gulf war because of depleted uranium. He says its soldiers today cannot be thrilled at the prospect of going into combat with tanks that are only slightly improved. He says that has to be a drain on Iraqi military morale.

Depleted uranium results from the enriching of natural uranium for use in nuclear reactors. It is a heavy metal containing low levels of radioactivity but the Pentagon insists it is not hazardous. It is favored by military commanders because of its penetrating power, especially its ability to punch through the armor plating on tanks.