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White House prepares to expand ability to use land mines

Jennifer Jacobs
Bloomberg

The Trump administration is preparing to loosen rules on the U.S. military’s ability to use land mines, even after more than 150 countries signed a treaty banning them, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The current U.S. policy on land mines, adopted by former President Barack Obama in 2014, has been to refrain from using them outside the Korean Peninsula and not assist countries outside the peninsula from deploying them.

Land mines can remain active for decades. According to the United Nations, every day mines are responsible for deaths or severe injuries, including the loss of limbs. Those casualties prompted three-quarters of the world’s countries to bar the use of anti-personnel land mines in 1997. The U.S. never signed onto that treaty, although an American, Jody Williams, shared the Nobel Peace Prize that year for her work to eliminate the weapons.

“They restrict the movement of people and humanitarian aid, make land unsuitable for cultivation, and deny citizens access to water, food, care and trade,” according to the UN’s Office for Disarmament Affairs.

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper speaks during a news conference at the Pentagon in Washington on Monday, Jan. 27, 2020.

CNN earlier reported the Trump administration’s plans.

At a Pentagon briefing on Thursday, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said in response to a question about the policy that “there will be a change coming out. I’m not going to comment on it until it is.” The White House declined to comment.

It’s not clear what prompted the administration to change course on land mines. CNN reported that former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis launched a review of the policy in 2017 and concluded that prohibiting their use outside of Korea “increased risk to mission success” and could increase U.S. casualties.

The UN said that land mines treaty has resulted in a sharp decline in casualties, and the destruction of more than 40 million stockpiled mines.

The Trump administration’s plans drew alarm from Senator Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat who has sought to reduce the use of land mines and assist those injured by the weapons. He said he asked the Pentagon to hold off on making a decision.

“Congress must be consulted before any decision that would reverse the gains we have made toward ending the carnage caused by land mines,” he said in a statement.

With assistance from Josh Wingrove and Glen Carey.