Trump Rescinds Obama-Era Rules on Landmines

February 1, 2020 Updated: February 1, 2020

The Trump administration said it was rescinding an Obama-era policy concerning anti-personnel landmines.

President Donald Trump canceled the Obama administration’s policy that prohibited U.S. military forces from using the mines outside of the Korean peninsula.

“The Department of Defense has determined that restrictions imposed on American forces by the Obama administration’s policy could place them at a severe disadvantage during a conflict against our adversaries. The president is unwilling to accept this risk to our troops,” White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said in a statement.

Safeguards on mines require them to self-destruct or, if the self-destruct mechanism fails, to self-deactivate.

A new policy issued by the department enables commanders to, in exceptional circumstances, employ mines designed to reduce unintended harm to civilians and allies. However, persistent landmines, or those without a self-destruct/self-deactivation function, will still be prohibited.

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An antipersonnel mine in Afghanistan in a file photograph. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

The antipersonnel landmines, or APL, are allowed under international treaties that the United States is a part of, Vic Mercado, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategy, Plans and Capabilities, said in a statement. The new action was taken as the result of a Department of Defense study that determined that the U.S. military “faced a critical capability gap,” Mercado said.

“Landmines, including APL, remain a vital tool in conventional warfare that the United States military cannot responsibly forgo, particularly when faced with substantial and potentially overwhelming enemy forces in the early stages of combat,” he said.

“Withholding a capability that would give our ground forces the ability to deny terrain temporarily and therefore shape an enemy’s movement to our benefit irresponsibly risks American lives.”

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper sent a memo to military leaders on Jan. 31 announcing the updated policy.

He said that “area denial systems, such as landmines, play an important role” in helping the military regain competitive advantages.

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Secretary of Defense Mark Esper (L) and Italian Minister of Defense Lorenzo Guerini take part in a joint press conference at the Pentagon in Washington on Jan. 31, 2020. (Kevin Wolf/AP Photo)

“These systems help protect defending forces from both enemy armor and dismounted threats and ensure units are not outflanked or overrun when under attack. They obstruct and influence the enemy’s direction of movement, channeling enemy forces into zones in which U.S. forces can better concentrate overwhelming firepower,” he said.

“They also delay or stop enemy forces, enhancing the effectiveness of other weapons that U.S. forces can then bring to bear, while doing so with reduced manpower requirements and fewer munitions. Ultimately, they serve as a force multiplier, helping U.S. forces to fight effectively against enemy threats, which may be numerically superior or capable of exploiting operational or tactical advantages over U.S. forces.”

The new policy drew some criticism, including from Sen. Bob Menendez, ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

“By enabling and encouraging the scourge of anti-personnel landmines around the world, President Trump has found yet another disturbing way to undo the progress made to restrict the harm to civilians these indiscriminate weapons cause,” he said.

“There is a reason why more than 160 countries have banned the use of antipersonnel landmines. Like machine guns, APL are gruesome weapons useful only to kill people in the battlefield; but the reality is these devices often end up causing horrific casualties and deaths of innocent men, women, and children off the battlefield.”

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