In a statement, Mike Howard, a Pentagon spokesman, called such weapons “a vital tool in conventional warfare” that the military “cannot responsibly forgo, particularly when faced with substantial and potentially overwhelming enemy forces in the early stages of combat.”
The announcement drew swift condemnation from human-rights groups. The Pentagon press secretary, John Kirby, subsequently addressed the issue with reporters, saying Howard’s words were “accurate and factual,” but he added that the land-mine policy was under review.
The current policy dates to Jan. 31, 2020, when Mark Esper, secretary of defense under President Donald Trump, announced a major change to the Pentagon’s policy on antipersonnel land mines, which as small explosive weapons that are buried underground or laid on the surface and meant to kill or maim people. Their use was permitted so long as the weapons had self-destruct features or could self-deactivate.
Esper’s decision followed Trump’s cancellation of a presidential directive signed by President Barack Obama in 2014 that limited the use of so-called persistent mines, which stay deadly indefinitely, to the Korean Peninsula
“We are analyzing Secretary Esper’s decision, his policy of January 2020,” Kirby told reporters Tuesday. “When we complete that analysis of that decision, then we will be able to have a better idea of whether or not further review of our land-mine policy is warranted.”
Older types of antipersonnel land mines can remain deadly for many decades and are banned by 164 countries. Their use has been condemned because of the indiscriminate manner in which they operate: Most will explode when stepped upon, no matter whether by an enemy fighter or a noncombatant.
Anti-tank land mines, which contain larger explosive charges and are devised to disable or destroy armored vehicles, are not banned under international law.
In 1997, a treaty to ban antipersonnel land mines was opened for signature in Ottawa, Ontario, and went into effect in March 1999. The United States has refused to sign the treaty, along with China, India, Russia, North Korea, South Korea, Pakistan and Iran, among others.