The Pentagon said it will keep in place a Trump-era policy allowing the use of certain antipersonnel land mines that were restricted under former President Obama while it conducts a review.
The announcement comes as the Biden administration faces increasing pressure to immediately reinstate the Obama-era limits that Trump lifted in January of 2020.
A Pentagon spokesman on Tuesday said the Defense Department still finds the weapon “a vital tool in conventional warfare” that the U.S. military “cannot responsibly forgo, particularly when faced with substantial and potentially overwhelming enemy forces in the early stages of combat."
“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,” spokesman Mike Howard said in a statement on Tuesday.
Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said later on Tuesday that while Howard's statement was “accurate and factual,” Defense officials are analyzing the land mine policy and how the decision was made to change it last year.
Former President TrumpDonald TrumpKinzinger says Trump 'winning' because so many Republicans 'have remained silent' Our remote warfare counterterrorism strategy is more risk than reward Far-right rally draws small crowd, large police presence at Capitol MORE last year rolled back restrictions on land mines placed outside of the Korean Peninsula, nixing Obama’s 2014 directive to no longer produce or acquire the weapon in the region. The so-called persistent mines stay active indefinitely and are meant to protect South Korea from any threats from North Korea.
Shortly after Trump's move, then-Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperMilley and China — what the Senate really needs to know Biden, Trump battle over who's to blame for Afghanistan Overnight Defense: Pentagon chief defends Milley after Trump book criticism | Addresses critical race theory | Top general says Taliban has 'strategic momentum' in war MORE announced a change to the Pentagon’s land mine policy, allowing the armament as long as it had self-destruct features or could self-deactivate.
“We are analyzing Secretary Esper's decision, his policy of January of 2020... When we complete that analysis of that decision, then we'll be able to have a better idea of whether or not further review of our land mine policy is warranted,” Kirby said on Tuesday.
The 164-country agreement known as the 1997 Ottawa Convention banned the use, stockpiling, production and transfer of older types of antipersonnel land mines as they are likely to kill and wound civilians.
Obama’s policy largely followed the convention, though the United States has not signed the international agreement.
Lawmakers and human rights advocacy groups in recent days have criticized Biden for not signing the treaty, after indicating on the campaign trail that he would do so if elected.
“This landmine policy starkly sets the U.S. apart from its allies. It is in direct opposition with President BidenJoe BidenSunday shows preview: Coronavirus dominates as country struggles with delta variant Did President Biden institute a vaccine mandate for only half the nation's teachers? Democrats lean into vaccine mandates ahead of midterms MORE’s aspirations to be a global human rights leader – for the United States to truly be a leader, it must change its land mines policy as soon as possible,” Adotei Akwei, advocacy director of Amnesty International USA, said in a statement.
Sen. Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyPhotos of the Week: Renewable energy, gymnast testimonies and a Met Gala dress Senators denounce protest staged outside home of Justice Kavanaugh Al Franken on another Senate run: 'I'm keeping my options open' MORE (D-Vt.) said in a statement Wednesday that he had spoken to Defense Secretary Lloyd AustinLloyd AustinFar-right rally draws small crowd, large police presence at Capitol Capitol Police swear in state, local law enforcement ahead of 'Justice for J6' rally Overnight Defense & National Security — The Pentagon's deadly mistake MORE as recently as last week “about the need to return to the Obama policy on landmines.”
“I have spoken to President Biden about this over many years, and I’m confident that his administration will do the right thing and renounce these indiscriminate weapons that have no place in the arsenal of civilized nations,” Leahy said.