A minefield.
A minefield in Dirico, Angola. (Photo by Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire via Getty)
  • The administration of Donald Trump has overturned Obama-era restrictions on the use of anti-personnel landmines, weapons targeting individual persons, by the US military.
  • While the Obama administration largely committed the US to upholding the 1997 treaty banning their use - with the exception of the defense of South Korea - the new policy significantly expands their use.
  • "The Department of Defense has determined that restrictions imposed on American forces by the Obama administration's policy could place them at a severe disadvantage during a conflict against our adversaries," the White House said in a statement Friday announcing the policy change.
  • Many countries, including South Africa, have vowed never to use anti-personnel mines again.
  • Visit Business Insider SA's homepage for more stories.

The administration of Donald Trump is reversing limitations on landmine use set by the Obama administration, giving the US military more freedom to use these weapons that are banned by countries around the world, including South Africa, the White House revealed in a statement Friday.

The US is not a signatory to the 1997 treaty prohibiting the use, stockpiling, production and transfer of anti-personnel mines (APLs) which more than 160 countries have signed, but the Obama administration committed the US in June 2014 to upholding "the spirit and humanitarian aims of the" treaty.

The only exception, the Obama administration revealed that September, was the defense of South Korea.

US policy has been for years that the use of APLs is forbidden outside of the Korean Peninsula, as these hidden weapons are known to maim civilians years after a war is over.

"The Department of Defense is issuing a new landmine policy," the White House said Friday.

"This policy will authorize combatant commanders, in exceptional circumstances, to employ advanced, non-persistent landmines specifically designed to reduce unintended harm to civilians and partner forces," the Trump administration explained.

The policy change announcement follows reports Thursday from Vox and CNN revealing the expected shift in US landmine policy.

The US "will not sacrifice American service members' safety, particularly when technologically advanced safeguards are available that can allow landmines to be employed responsibly to ensure our military's warfighting advantage, while also limiting the risk of unintended harm to civilians" a State Department cable obtained by Vox's Alex Ward reads.

CNN, citing defense officials, reported that the anticipated policy change is being triggered by the results of a 2017 review that found that restrictions on landmine use "increased risk to mission success."

Some experts, however, disagree. "Antipersonnel landmines are of low military utility, but excel at long-term cruelty and terror against civilians," Ankit Panda, a foreign policy expert and a senior editor at The Diplomat, wrote on Twitter.

Landmines, according to the Landmine Monitor, have killed around 130,000 people, mostly civilians, between 1998 and 2018. In that last year alone, the watchdog group recorded 6,897 people killed or injured by landmines and explosive remnants of war.

The 1997 Ottawa Convention, also known as the Mine Ban Treaty, was created, according to the treaty's preamble, "to put an end to the suffering and casualties caused by anti-personnel mines, that kill or maim hundreds of people every week, mostly innocent and defenseless civilians and especially children, obstruct economic development and reconstruction, inhibit the repatriation of refugees and internally displaced persons and have other severe consequences for years after emplacement."

South Africa signed the treaty in 1997.

"This action," the White House said, "is yet another in a series of actions taken by the Trump administration to give our military the flexibility and capability it needs to win."

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