The Trump administration's decision to lift a ban on using anti-personnel landmines outside the Korean Peninsula will protect U.S. forces, according to Defense Secretary Mark Esper.
"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," he wrote in a Pentagon memo issued today.
Esper said the military, in keeping with U.S. obligations under international law, will use remotely delivered anti-personnel landmines "only if they have compliant self-destruction mechanisms and self-deactivation features, and they are detectable by commonly available technical mine detection equipment."
The U.S. government also pledges to "take feasible precautions to protect civilians from the use of landmines" and address their presence in specific areas "after the cessation of active hostilities."
"For example, all activated landmines, regardless of whether they are remotely delivered or not, will be designed and constructed to self-destruct in 30 days or less after emplacement and will possess a back-up self-deactivation feature," the memo said. "Some landmines, regardless of whether they are remotely delivered or not, will be designed and constructed to self-destruct in shorter periods of time, such as two hours or  hours."
Esper said he is confident U.S. military leaders will be able to properly determine whether it will be necessary to use landmines.
The removal of the ban, which the Obama administration put in place in 2014, was met with criticism among Democrats on Capitol Hill.
"The president's decision to roll back the policy on anti-personnel landmines is as perplexing as it is disappointing, and reflexive, and unwise," Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) said in a statement. "As far as I know, Congress was not consulted about this decision, despite requests to be consulted."
Leahy said the decision to limit the use of such an "inherently indiscriminate weapon" to the Korean Peninsula was based on decades of analysis and incremental policy by both Democratic and Republican administrations.
"In fact, the U.S. military has not used this weapon since 1991 in any of the protracted wars in which it has been deployed," he said. "One of the reasons is that landmines threaten the safety and impede the mobility of our own troops on a rapidly changing battlefield. This is so even for mines that are designed to self-destruct or deactivate but are no more able to distinguish a civilian or U.S. soldier from an enemy combatant."