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American Forces Use 50 Caliber Weapons in Afghan Cities

.50 Caliber Ammunition May Violate the Rules of War
Matthew J. Nasuti (Former U.S. Air Force Captain)
Sunday 21 March 2010

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One of the favorite new American weapons in their fight against the Taliban is the .50 caliber sniper rifle. The .50 caliber round is a huge bullet. It has five times the weight of an ordinary NATO 7.62 mm round, with six times the energy and with very similar velocity of 900 meters per second. It is being used extensively in Iraq and Afghanistan. It was reported that a NATO sniper armed with the .50 caliber rifle killed a Taliban soldier from a distance of 2,430 meters (almost two and a half kilometers away). The incredible power, relatively flat trajectory and accuracy of this weapon are its best features, and are also its downside.

The weapon is so powerful, with such an expansive range, that if it misses its target, the bullet could wind up anywhere. In addition, while it has the ability to kill an individual, the bullet is so heavy and has such kinetic energy that it could continue on its course, potentially putting downrange civilians in jeopardy. The question is whether this makes the weapon sufficiently “indiscriminate” that it is illegal under the Geneva Conventions.

In case IT-95-11-R61 before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. Milan Martic, former President of the Republic of Serbian Krajina, was found guilty of reprisals against the Croatian civilian population. Specifically, he was found to have authorized the firing of Orkan rockets into Zagrab on May 2 and 3, 1995, thereby intentionally causing civilian casualties. The Court manufactured a novel new argument for liability. It accepted dubious prosecution testimony that the Orkan was “relatively inaccurate” due to it having a CEP (circular error probable) of 600 meters when fired from 50 kilometers. What the CEP means is that some Orkans might precisely hit their target and others might miss by anywhere up to 600 meters. As a result of this prosecution testimony, the Court set forth a fairly vague standard. It essentially ruled that weapons that are inaccurate, which term is not defined, are weapons of terror and serve no military purpose.

It is this author’s opinion that NATO and the Clinton Administration should have intervened in this case and objected to the ruling. Pursuant to international law (in this case it is what is called the “Martens Clause”) a war crime is dependent on there being near universal agreement that certain conduct is a violation of the rules of war. In the case of the Orkan that was not true. But, as the West did not object, the Martic decision is now binding on NATO.

The question is whether the .50 caliber weapon can meet the Martic standard. The argument is that a soldier, if he fires at a target and misses, simply does not know where this unusual bullet will come to rest. It also may not matter whether the sniper hits his target, as this bullet has such kinetic energy that it has the potential to continue downrange for another kilometer or two. In that sense, it may be inaccurate under the Martic holding. Remember that in Martic, a weapon was found to be inaccurate (and its use a war crime) if the shell could land anywhere within 600 meters of its intended target. The .50 caliber round can wind up anywhere within at least 2400 meters.

Another problem for the .50 caliber round is that it has numerous variations. It comes in a standard (ball) version, there is an armored-piercing version and there is as armored-piercing, explosive, incendiary version. The latter may violate the October 1980, Geneva Convention, Protocol III which prohibits incendiary weapons which can have “indiscriminate effects.”

One idea to partially fix the problem is to devise a .50 caliber bullet with either a hollow point or a slight weight instability such that it will begin to spin after it encounters its first target or impacts its first barrier. This will limit its ability to wander after striking its target.

The thought of an American soldier shooting a Taliban soldier and then an Afghan child being killed on the other side of town, a kilometer away, by the same bullet, should cause the Pentagon to investigate a solution which still permits the American military to use this amazing weapon, while limiting its unintended effects.

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Forum posts

  • If US forces do not use 50 Caliber Weapons, is the US invasion upon Afghanistan good?

    The US invasion on Afghanistan started with fierce air assaults on Afghan people who neither have been involving in 9/11 nor have been meditating an attack the US, which caused many civilian deaths accompanied by a lot of refugees and widespread destruction of infrastructure.

    Next, US forces have been indiscriminately murdering Afghan civilians and amputating limbs by drones and night raids, while causing awful sufferings to Afghan people beyond generations by depleted uranium.

    Additionally, a reporter of NYT covered that the US troops used white phosphorus shells in broad daylight to attack human last year.

    Whenever I read your articles, I feel that you turn your eyes away from much more serious war crimes by the US, though I admire your investigative reporting.

    Invaders will be invaders. They can not be saviors, no matter how well they handle problems and crimes such as those you pointed out.

    • Whoever wrote this opinion is very well informed and intelligent. Of course invaders are always invaders. America is not the land seen on TV or advertised by greedy invaders in their war reports and lies. Americans are not the nice guys always feeding children and giving help. Unfortunately American soldiers are often people who could not get a real job or do anything else with their lives and so they join the wars. I have overheard them talking to each other in coffee shops in California saying things like, let’s go to Iran now and kill all those ragheads too....or much worse things. the medias have done a pretty good job of posing Afghans and Iranians and other moslems as ragheads who abuse women and kill Christians. A lot of these young soldiers are totally crude uneducated and rude and would gladly exterminate all "ragheads" is asked to. Most of them don’t even know the difference between Iran, Iran or other mideast countries, calling them all "ragheads" or "AAA-rabs".

      the orginal article here was about bullets that are too big. How does that compare to report videos on youtube showing small afghani village homes that american soldiers used as toilets? Believe me, I have lived in Iran and Afghanistan and Pakistan, etc. and other americans abused and made fun of me very badly for wearing local clothes or even learning the language. I am proud to speak farsi and I loved your country and people and so do lots of other americans. However the ones that come over there to have a war are often the worst of us. The bigger the bullet the more they laugh at the "ragheads" they kill or torture. These are sick men who when they come back to America often end up in mental institutions or jail or on drugs in the street. Killing anybody in your countries is no more important to them than slaughtering chickens or goats or cows. Some however are tortured forever remembering killing children for no reason, etc. There are more and more of us in America who are starting to see who the joke is on: it is on you and us. They take our tax dollars to destroy your country and now want to take your tax dollars also. The main thing they will do is take all the best places for themselves if possible. The green places near the river or the beautiful places on the mountains that make good ski resorts. Without you knowing it they are presently surveying and taking inventory of your country and it’s natural resources and they will divide it up between Europe and U.S. and allies if possible. It is your job to stop them. Your big bullets will have to be your minds and brains and your allah.

  • detail of caliber 50 gun .

    it no matter what you bring to kill afghan . . they are well be kick to ass of American for sure and we well see it live .



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