- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 25, 2001

The U.S. Army does not require anti-personnel (AP) land mines to protect its men and women in uniform or to increase its combat-effectiveness when waging war. Former President Bill Clinton claimed in 1997 that a U.S. signature on the Mine Ban Treaty would rob us of a weapon key to our forces' security.This assertion was, at that time, and still is, untrue.

Ironically, AP landmines have consistently demonstrated that they are, at best, minimal in their military utility, and at worse, deadly to the very troops that deploy them. U.S. combat strategy is based on an aggressive and highly mobile counterattack when engaged by hostile forces.This response plan almost always makes AP mines a liability to our dismounted infantry.

AP mines, in Operation Desert Storm especially, have shown that they slow our units and impede their ability to conduct fast-moving combat operations.

Mines, either permanent or self-detonating, are blind and time and time again they have proven to be as adept at maiming and killing our own troops as those of an opposing force. While serving several tours in Korea and Vietnam as combat arms commanders in some of those conflicts' fiercest fighting, we saw firsthand the carnage our own mines inflicted on U.S. combatants and Korean and Vietnamese civilians.

According to U.S. Army documents, a full third of U.S. casualties in Vietnam were caused by AP mines, and more than 90 percent of those weapons responsible were made by the United States.

In that conflict, the only advantage AP mines gave was to the North Vietnamese, who often recycled our weapons for use against us in their own mines and booby traps.

The strategic failures of AP mines are only compounded by the human tragedy they cause for both civilians and our own soldiers. The International Committee of the Red Cross estimates that every 22 minutes someone, most often a civilian, is maimed or killed by an AP mine.

Like civilian survivors, U.S. soldiers who survive injury by AP mines, after multiple surgeries and rehabilitation, often are abandoned by their spouses, have been unable to find gainful employment, and in some cases, have fallen into addiction or committed suicide. No treaty can bring back the lives and limbs sacrificed to this indiscriminate and counterproductive weapon, but U.S. participation in the Mine Ban Treaty can help ensure that American troops will, at the very least, not fall to our own mines while fighting tomorrow's wars.

No matter what minimal military utility, if any, AP mines may display, the cost they exact on armies and civilians is too great to continue reserving the right to deploy them. Poison gas and chemical weapons have been banned because of the indiscriminate and horrific nature of the casualties they cause. But AP landmines remain long after gas and chemicals would have dispersed. The Mine Ban Treaty has demonstrated that preventing further mine use, not simply removing those mines already laid, is the only vaccine to this disease.

Some congressional leaders maintain that the U.S. should continue on course with Mr. Clinton's plan to accede to the Mine Ban Treaty in 2006, a date dependent on a successful search for "suitable" alternatives to AP mines. Development of "suitable" alternatives to AP mines is a ludicrous course of action when one considers that the U.S. Army already has tactics and technology that serve the same purpose of AP mines, blocking the movement of infantry units.

If U.S. policy-makers continue to believe in the general utility of AP mines, the best interests of the American soldier will never be fully served. As retired lieutenant generals with considerable combat command experience, we urge President Bush to instruct the Pentagon to develop operational doctrine that does not include the use of non-command detonated AP landmines or anti-handling devices.

By sending the Mine Ban Treaty to the Senate for ratification, Mr. Bush will demonstrate he has the vision and political courage to forward a militarily sound solution to this crippling humanitarian problem. The world's civilians as much as America's soldiers do not deserve to be tragically disfigured, horribly maimed or blown apart by a weapon emplaced in yesterday's battlefields where children now play. President Bush should ban this weapon.

James Hollingsworth is a retired U.S. Army lieutenant general and a former commander of I-Corps (ROK-U.S.A.) Group. Lt. Gen. Henry E. Emerson is a former commander of the U.S. XVIII Airborne Corps.

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