- The Washington Times - Friday, February 28, 2020

The United States should rethink its decision to permit the use of anti-personnel mines in any situation where military commanders believe them to be necessary, advocacy group Human Rights Watch said this week.

The New York-based organization joins a growing list of groups, ranging from Amnesty International to the Presbyterian Church (USA), that have called on the Trump administration to return to the Obama-era ban on the acquisition and employment of antipersonnel land mines anywhere outside the Korean Peninsula.

“Nations that have banned land mines are understandably dismayed by the U.S. decision to produce and use these indiscriminate weapons,” said Steve Goose, arms division director at Human Rights Watch. “Continued vigilance is needed to defend the emerging norm against antipersonnel mines.”

Pentagon officials had the backing of the White House in their mission to allow commanders to employ land mines when deemed necessary. They are a vital tool in conventional warfare, especially in the early stages where the potential for an overwhelming enemy force is there, officials 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,” said Vic Mercado, the interim assistant secretary of defense for strategy, plans and capabilities.



U.S. officials cite technology that would mitigate non-combat danger by destroying the land mines or rendering them inert within a set period of time. But officials with the U.S. Campaign to Ban Landmines say such efforts ignore the fact they are indiscriminate killers.

“Regardless of the length of their lifespan, they cannot distinguish between a combatant or a civilian while active,” the group said in a statement. “If the self-destruct or self-deactivation mechanisms were to fail, they would remain lethal and the potential exists for the components to be repurposed into improvised explosive devices

Even under the new policy, the Pentagon said it will continue its current prohibition against “persistent” land mines — those without any sort of deactivation device. But, the international situation has changed since the Obama administration committed to pursue the Ottawa Convention.

“We face an era of strategic competition that requires our military to become more lethal, resilient and ready for future contingencies,” Pentagon officials said in a statement.

Human Rights Watch and similar groups are also asking the U.S. to stop using cluster munitions which can be dropped from aircraft or fired with field artillery or rockets. It could cause harm to aid workers who would have no way of knowing if they are in a mined area, officials said.

“The U.S. has used other means and methods to fight over the past 30 years without having to resort to using banned land mines,” Mr. Goose said. “Embracing such widely discredited weapons now will ultimately increase the risks faced by U.S. service members.

“The U.S. has used other means and methods to fight over the past 30 years without having to resort to using banned land mines,” he said. “Embracing such widely discredited weapons now will ultimately increase the risks faced by U.S. service members.”

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