Milley says Ukrainians use landmines ‘effectively’, reopening controversial weapons debate

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Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley said on Thursday that landmines played a vital role in the success of Ukrainian forces against Russian armored vehicles.

Milley’s comments at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing come as the Biden administration reviews US policy on landmines after former President Donald Trump expanded the US military’s use of weapons controversial in 2020.

“Landmines are effectively used by Ukrainian forces to shape the approaches of Russian armored forces, placing them in areas of engagement and making them vulnerable to the 60,000 anti-tank weapon systems we provide to the Ukrainians “, says Milley. “That’s one of the reasons you see column after column of Russian vehicles being destroyed.”

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US forces have been victims of landmines in the past, including those made in the United States. About 90% of mines and booby traps used against U.S. troops during the Vietnam War were either U.S.-made or built by enemy forces using captured U.S. parts, according to an Army study reported by the New York Times.

More than 160 countries have signed a 1997 treaty banning the use, stockpiling, production and transfer of antipersonnel landmines. The United States is not part of it, nor is Russia.

Landmines have long been decried by human rights organizations because they are often abandoned after conflict, indiscriminately killing and maiming civilians who come across them long after a war has ended.

A monitoring organization called Landmine Monitor estimates that at least 7,073 people were killed or injured by landmines in 2020 alone.

Russia has also been accused of using landmines in its attacks on civilians during the Ukrainian war, including its new POM-3 which uses sensors to detect when someone is walking nearby rather than the way traditional way of setting off a landmine by stepping on it.

In 2014, then-President Barack Obama issued an executive order aimed at reducing civilian harm that prohibited the US military from using landmines anywhere other than on the Korean peninsula. This particular use – to protect South Korea from invasion from the north – has long been the main reason given by military planners for their objection to signing a ban on landmines.

But in January 2020, Trump rescinded Obama’s order, arguing the restriction could put the military at a “serious disadvantage in a conflict against our adversaries.”

During the presidential campaign, then-candidate Joe Biden promised to “quickly” reverse Trump’s decision. But more than a year into his presidency, the Biden administration is still reviewing the policy.

In comments Thursday, Milley called landmines an “important” weapon to help “shape enemy operations.”

But he also nodded to concerns about their harm to civilians, saying the United States was working to develop landmines that could deactivate at the end of a war.

“The reason we’re developing a newer one is that they expire and pose no danger after the end of hostilities,” Milley said. “And they would explode or self-destruct or become inert at the end of hostilities.”

— Rebecca Kheel can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @reporterkheel.

Related: Trump rolls back Obama-era restrictions on military use of landmines

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