U.S. Might Use Landmines in Iraq; Future Policy Unclear

By Boese, Wade | Arms Control Today, April 2003 | Go to article overview
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U.S. Might Use Landmines in Iraq; Future Policy Unclear

Boese, Wade, Arms Control Today

AMONG THE MANY weapons that U.S. military forces might use in combat against Iraq is one that its key coalition partners, the United Kingdom and Australia, have forsworn: anti-personnel landmines (APLs).

U.S. forces might use APLs to deny Iraqi forces access to facilities or sites suspected of housing chemical or biological weapons, according to a senior Pentagon official who briefed reporters March 5.

Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), an advocate of eliminating landmines, warned in a March 17 statement that U.S. APL use in Iraq would be "unnecessary and potentially counterproductive." He added, "U.S. APL use [in Iraq] would put us at odds with the policies of many of our allies and set back efforts to ban these indiscriminate weapons."

All U.S. NATO allies except Turkey, as well as some 120 other countries, have signed the Ottawa Convention banning the use, stockpiling, production, and transfer of APLs. The United States refused to sign the accord when it was opened for signature in December 1997 because it had stricter provisions than what the United States deemed acceptable. Iraq also has not signed the treaty.

U.S. officials and commanders have been told that British personnel should not be asked to lay APLs, because it would contravene the United Kingdom's Ottawa obligations. When London deposited its instrument of ratification for the Ottawa Convention in July 1998, it did so with a declaration that British participation in planning, exercises, or operations with countries not bound by the treaty would not be contrary to its treaty commitments.

At a February 27 meeting of the 66-member Conference on Disarmament, Australian Ambassador Michael Smith condemned the use of APLs, stating that they "are not a weapon essential to any state's security." He continued, "On the contrary they constitute a menace to civilians and they have no place in any country's arsenal."

U.S. landmine use is governed by the 1996 amended mines protocol of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons. The protocol does not prohibit landmine use, but restricts their use in a number of ways. For example, the protocol requires that mines delivered by aircraft or artillery must be equipped with self-destruct and self-deactivation mechanisms to limit the amount of time they can be triggered to explode.

During the 1991 Persian Gulf War, U.S. forces employed approximately 118,000 landmines-both APLs and mixed systems that comprise both anti-tank and anti-personnel components-for several intended purposes, including protecting the flanks of U.S. forces, restricting Iraqi troop movements, and frustrating the freedom of movement of Iraq's mobile Scud missile launchers.

Whether U.S. landmine use in the 1991 Gulf War had any effect on the Iraqi military is uncertain, according to a September 2002 report by the General Accounting Office (GAO), which does studies and investigations for Congress. GAO reported that the Pentagon provided "no evidence of specific military effects on the enemy-such as enemy killed or equipment destroyed."

The GAO said some U.S. military commanders in that conflict had qualms about employing landmines due to concerns about limiting their own battlefield mobility or accidentally killing U.S. and allied soldiers. Iraqi or "unknown" types of mines caused 81 total U.

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